employee communication

3 Big Thoughts on Crisis Communication During the Pandemic

Gene Marks & Kelly Spors

During these crazy times, employees need sanity. As leaders, we need to figure out how to provide it. Crisis communication is important no matter what kind of business you manage. Whether you’re running a small shop out of your home with freelancers, own a restaurant that’s been shut down or manage a company with fifty people, knowing what to do and say in times like these is crucial.

As managers and bosses, people are looking to us for leadership. So, what should we be doing?

Crisis Communication Strategies for Small Business Owners

crisis communication plan

Have a crisis communication plan.

Developing a formal crisis management strategy ensures you’re prepared when a disruptive event or emergency strikes—so you’re not rushing to react or make tough decisions. A crisis communications plan that outlines your strategies for both internal and external communications should be part of that.

Crisis communication plans should include:

Contact information

Which employees, customers or vendors need to be contacted immediately when a crisis event occurs? Include their contact information and how you will communicate with those key people.

Messaging

Think through the possible scenarios your employees, customers and suppliers could face after a crisis, such as:

  • What if the company needs to shut down temporarily? Will you continue to pay employees and for how long?
  • What if your products or services (or delivery of them) are affected?
  • What if there’s an accident or injury at the workplace?
  • What if poor conduct by an employee or something else significantly hurts your company’s public image and reputation?

By thinking through such scenarios, you can start to plan out how you will react and what you will say in each of those situations. You probably can’t script out everything. After all, the pandemic has shown us the highly unique factors that a crisis can bring. But it makes sure you’re ready to tackle important matters in case of a potential crisis in the future.

Your customer service team, as well as the people who manage your social media such as your Twitter account, should be informed of this crisis communication plan and the company’s official responses, so they can answer any questions. You may also want to provide your PR team with media training so they can provide a response if a reporter contacts them. What you don’t want: Your team making up your crisis communication on the fly or providing inconsistent information because there’s no strategy in place.

Communicate regularly.

People want updates from their employer. Share the information they need as often as you can. Some of my clients have asked if this should be daily or weekly. To me, the value of the communication degrades over time if the information isn’t relevant, so the number of communications is up you. For me, I plan to email my people at least weekly. I’m already speaking to some of them on the phone just because of our usual work, but I’m also planning on reaching out to everybody with a personal call, just for a check-in. This is an opportunity for me to get to know my people better – and for them to get know me too. I think post-crisis, we’ll all benefit from this increased communication. Having a solidified communication plan with your employees is an excellent addition to your crisis management strategy. And your employees will appreciate it too.

Be transparent and provide updates in real time.

What will I be communicating? Information to help them. Some of that information will be about the company, our progress, our backlog, our issues, our challenges. That’s because my employees rely on me for their livelihoods, so I want to make sure they’re fully up to speed on how the business is doing. I’m not going to sugar coat things. But I’m also not going to create fear and panic, particularly when there’s no reason. I’m going to calmly and consistently educate.

And the education won’t stop there. Part of my crisis communication plan is to inform my employees of all the benefits available to them from the government because I’m not sure what they know and don’t know, especially during a financial crisis. I’m going to make sure they’re updated on all the benefits available under our current health and retirement plans. I’ll update them on important tax information, health information and resources being offered by the federal government or in our local region.

Crisis Communication Tips for Leaders

crisis communication plan

Keep your opinion to yourself.

What am I not going to do? I’m not going to give opinions. No one cares about my personal beliefs or political leanings. No one wants updates on coronavirus infections, recoveries and deaths from me. There are plenty of news sources around to get that information. There are plenty of places for them to hear and debate other people’s points of view. As far as my employees are concerned, I’m only an expert in anything having to do with their paychecks. So, I’m going to keep myself focused on that topic and that topic only.

Be calm and upbeat.

No, I’m not going to be naively ignorant about the major health concerns related to this pandemic. I’m not going to spew out questionable numbers or facts that can be debated. I’m not going to be blissfully unaware of the hardships that people are suffering around the world.

If you run a business, your community is looking at you for your leadership. Like a pilot on a plane that’s having engine trouble, you must keep a calm voice and a reassuring attitude. Maintaining a consistent calm attitude is a strong tactic for credible crisis communication.

crisis communication plan

Find the silver lining.

Finally, remember that things are never as bad as they seem (they’re never as good as they seem either but that’s another story). Take this opportunity to find ways to improve your business. Get to know everyone a bit better with phone calls or virtual meetings. Find out what they like and don’t like about their current situation. Many employees are finding that they actually prefer working from home – perhaps there’s room to let some workers continue to do so once this is all over. Reassess your business continuity plan if another crisis occurs. Or see if there was excess spending pre-crisis that you can eliminate moving forward.

Right now, you’re running a business during very challenging times. But these times will end. And when you survive them, I encourage you to pat yourself on the back.

Successful Crisis Communication Examples in the Real World

Seeing how some large companies have effectively dealt with—or outright dodged—a PR crisis shows the value of thinking about your crisis communication plan before you need it. Here are three real-world examples of successful crisis communication:

PepsiCo

In 1993, rumors swirled that syringes were found inside Pepsi cans—suggesting tampering. Though ultimately a hoax, the soda maker quickly dispelled the rumors by producing a four-part video series that showed its stringent quality control procedures, while also providing surveillance footage showing a woman at a convenience store inserting a syringe in a can of Diet Pepsi. The hoax was revealed and arrests were made promptly—limiting the harm to the brand.

Virgin Group

In 2014, a Virgin Galactic space tourism test flight crashed over California’s Mojave Desert, killing one pilot and injuring the other. The company reacted quickly with Virgin founder Richard Branson immediately flying to Los Angeles to address the situation and provide details. The company survived the crisis by showing sincere compassion to the pilots and their families and confronting the situation with realism and heart.

Procter & Gamble

In 2018, several teenagers responded to the Tide Pod Challenge by laundry detergent maker Tide by producing YouTube videos that went viral of them eating Tide Pods. Thankfully, P&G had a crisis plan and reacted swiftly—within 24 hours of the reports. They removed the videos and created several memes for social media to let consumers know the dangers of ingesting the pods—with a somewhat humorous twist.

Right now, you’re running a business during very challenging times. But these times will end. And when you survive them, I encourage you to pat yourself on the back.

Next Steps: Want to learn more? Sign up for the Small Biz Ahead newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of the latest tools, trends, and resources. 

8 Responses to "3 Big Thoughts on Crisis Communication During the Pandemic"
    • Deanna Apostolon | April 9, 2020 at 12:19 am

      I like these tips . Thank you for posting them.

    • Jim Sutton | April 29, 2020 at 7:09 am

      This is very sound advise. Thank you for posting it. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our position and its importance.

    • Jim Sutton | April 29, 2020 at 7:10 am

      Awesome advise! Thanks for posting.

    • Rafael Chaikin | April 29, 2020 at 8:59 am

      I found that our employees know better than I do about the options offered by the Federal gov and the State for this emergency.
      Still believe communication is very important always

    • Gregg Spear | April 29, 2020 at 10:09 am

      Thank you for this, quick read, easily accessible, excellent information!

    • Mario | April 30, 2020 at 10:46 am

      Great insight!

    • Jacquelyn Thorp, MSHR, SPHR, PHRca | May 7, 2020 at 4:16 pm

      I love this newsletter. Great information on working remotely.

      • Small Biz Ahead Staff | May 8, 2020 at 8:51 am

        Thank you for reading!

Leave a Reply

Disclaimer: Comments are subject to moderation and removal without cause or justification and may take up to 24 hours to be seen in comments. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * Please do not include personal policy information; if you have questions or concerns regarding your policy with The Hartford, please log into your account or you can speak directly to a Customer Service Representative.