Do the complexities of COVID-19 communications have your head spinning? Fear not, we’re here to help!
Last week, IABC/BC held a virtual event entitled “Climate, Conflict and COVID-19: Crisis Communication in the New Decade.” We had the privileged opportunity to hear from three communicators with first-hand experience in the world of crisis communications.
- Heather Amos is a Communications Officer for the BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) at the Provincial Health Services Authority, and is part of the team involved in COVID-19 communication.
- Lauren Girdler is a Communications Advisor at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and was part of the team responsible for the Big Bar Landslide communication.
- Jennifer Sandford is the National Content Curator/Media Spokesperson/Podcast Host at Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) and manages the company’s COVID-19 response. Previously, she also worked as the national media spokesperson for WestJet, and developed the company’s culture-based emergency response strategy.
Lucky for us, they generously shared their tips for communicating during a crisis. In case you missed it—or would simply like a refresher—here are the key takeaways:
1. Preparation is key. The best time to prepare for a crisis is before it happens, not while it’s happening. Think about the skill sets of your team, and if there are any gaps you need to fill. For example, do you have spokespeople who can speak multiple languages, and the ability to translate your materials into the various languages your stakeholders speak?
2. Staff members are your most important stakeholders. When a crisis hits, some companies may be tempted to cut out staff and deal directly with their customers or clients. However, it’s extremely important to keep your team engaged and apprised on what’s happening. For example, the BC CDC sends frequent emails to staff, hosts Q&As meetings with leaders, and set up a publicly accessible intranet that remote workers could access.
3. Crisis is a team sport. With the heightened volume and speed of requests, no one can tackle a crisis alone. During the Big Bar Landslide last summer, Fisheries and Oceans Canada was receiving up to 50 media inquiries a day. Their military-style comms team, which had clear roles and responsibilities for everyone, was critical to their success.
4. This is an opportunity to improve. While a crisis is challenging, it’s also a chance to reflect and refine. Test your assumptions, maximize the things that are working, and minimize the things that are not. You can also experiment with different tools. For example, the BC CDC has introduced both chatbots and a data dashboard in its COVID-19 response.
5. Determine your post-crisis narrative. Spend some time crafting a key message that resonates with your audience. For example, instead of crafting their messaging around ducks, DUC positions their organization’s mission as preserving habitats to fight climate change. Oh, and remember those staff members you prioritized? They’ll be on hand to help reintroduce your company, as it emerges with stronger messaging post-crisis.
While crisis communications are complex, remembering these big picture priorities can help you strategize. We can’t control what crisis may come up next—but we can control how we respond to it.
For more tips on how to respond during this historic time, please check out our COVID-19 resources page.
In light of COVID-19, IABC/BC has switched to virtual events until further notice. We’re also considering additional professional development events into the summer months. If you have topic suggestions, please email events at iabc.bc.ca.