PR pros set the stage for the next phase of crisis response

Engaging employees is crucial for long-term success, according to these communications leaders.


Some in the PR industry see the world entering a new phase in its crisis response.

“The adrenaline of initial crisis response has passed,” says Mary Humphreys, head of marketing and communications for Corvias. “We’re entering into a prolonged time when employees will feel weary, uncertain and more disconnected.”

That means that your communications efforts are more important than ever.

“We must balance frequency and regularity with relevancy,” Humphreys says. “The risk of over-saturation is numbness to messages, but strike the right balance of practical and empathetic support, and the ‘reward’ becomes the revitalization of employees’ spirits and engagement.”

Transparent, honest and two-way communication holds true, even in the face of an unprecedented pandemic.

“Say what you know when you know it and if you’re uncertain, describe the path you’re taking to get more certainty,” Humphrey’s says. “Keep the communication lines open and two way.”

Internal stakeholders might be your first priority, but don’t ignore external audiences.

“We’re also working with our external audiences and tailoring those communications in various ways,” says Jill Davison, vice president of corporate communications for the Meredith Corporation. “For instance, as a company that reaches more than 190M consumers every month including almost 95% of women across our country with lifestyle content focused on family, food, home and entertainment across our platforms (print, digital, mobile, voice, etc.), we’ve adjusted/fine-tuned our content so that it’s more appropriate and on point with the times.”

Apart from offering consumers lots of content geared toward surviving the COVID-19 crisis with health tips, recipes, stress relievers and more, Davison also says it’s important to provide audiences with an escape.

“Our brands are also helping our audiences take a moment to find some levity and distraction from the endless headlines,” she says. “A little escape can go a long way, right now.”

One goal

For Davison, reminding employees that their health and safety is the No. 1 concern of the organization is essential.

“Transparent, caring and consistent internal comms is imperative right now,” she says. She encourages communicators to remind employees “that we’re going to persevere and overcome this together.”

It’s important, she says, to consider all the burdens employees might be carrying because of the crisis.

“We’re providing employees with essential and helpful info as they continue to adjust to all sorts of various circumstances,” she says. “Some employees are working from home while they’re caring for their elderly parents or they’re home-schooling their kids. Other employees are sharing workspaces for the first time with their roommates.”

By working with HR and tech teams, internal communications can help provide the employee with important tools and resources they need right away. Davison says these tools “run the gamut from healthcare/benefits, childcare resources to tech tips and virtual tech support,” and more.

The information war

Are communicators doing enough to push back against misinformation about COVID-19?

“More can be done but with 24/7 news cycles and endless communications channels, it is a herculean task,” says David Kyne, CEO of Evoke KYNE, a health care communications firm.  “Always laddering up to the most trusted authorities like the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, etc., seems to be the most sure-fire way to combat misinformation.”

Communicators can be important guides for employees seeking accurate information by pointing to these resources.

“We continually re-direct to those trusted sources for our employees, including local health authorities and governments,” says Kyne, “however we also are aware that with WhatsApp groups and other channels peer-to-peer communications can easily pick up and accelerate misinformation.”

To be successful in combatting this current crisis, Kyne says that communicators must break through to skeptics who might be unwilling to change their lives to conform to directives like “shelter in place.”

“Combatting this pandemic is all about behavior change and to achieve mass public behavior change, a constant, clear and impactful message from trusted sources is critical,” says Kyne. “Clear and actionable information is crucial to this effort—and we can, and should, all be doing what we can as communications professionals to help right now.”

Effective channels

What channels should you use to reach your internal and external audiences?

The consensus seems to be on as many channels as you can.

“Due to the size of this pandemic, every channel is carrying news and information,” says Kyne. “For our clients, depending on the global region they operate, we are directing audiences back to their local authorities as the best source of updated news and information…I think regular communications both via Zoom and through email or internal messaging is critically important. We are ensuring employees are aware of the full suite of resources available to them.”

Communicators like Davison see evidence that we can meet the current communications challenge.

“The collaboration behind the scenes is so critical and comforting,” she says.

Make sure that your lines of communication are open so that the good news comes through just as loud as the tough breaks.

Get more insights on how to respond to this crisis and beyond by joining Ragan’s Crisis Leadership Board.


2 Responses to “PR pros set the stage for the next phase of crisis response”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    What’s next will be new realities.

    When happy days are here again, PR may be both a cause and an effect of the happiness. New PR methods may be used to achieve old PR objectives.

    PR JOBS WILL SOAR. Because PR can create massive public demand for government policies and for products, the sharply increased American jackpot makes a sharp increase in PR employment likely. Even among HR recruiters who never heard of PR Daily’s PR courses, PR achievement awards or the Crisis Leadership Board, candidates with a recent PR course diploma, award or board membership may be favored. When there’s short list of five candidates—and one has the extra credential—that can be a basis for deciding “let’s take this one.”

    BILLION DOLLAR PRIZES FOR PR SUCCESS. With congress appropriating hundreds of billions to goose the economy and repair our infrastructure, lobbyists will persuasively urge government people to “take a gander” at how a billion spent for this or that will “help a public that urgently needs these jobs and benefits.”

    SECURITIES INSECURITY. Even though a high percentage of stocks and bonds are held by institutions, many individual investors now shaken and insecure select their institutions. So investment PR executives may join sports editors in focusing attention on likely winners and losers. Reality is that a major downturn in security prices could happen again so more and more PR savants may behave as if they had balls—all-too-rare crystal balls—that may forecast the likelihood of business home runs and strikeouts.

    SON OF A BEACH? Good times or bad, people need to get away but times have not been good so instead of “fly away to happiness” stories, travel PR experts may point out how all kinds of less expensive things may be very much like a lovely day at the beach or wherever.

    WHOLESALE APPROVAL OF RETAILERS. “What did you do for me lately” is not only a line from a joke but is a reality that skilled PR teams will get the public to consider. Instead of shoppers considering only “what do we get and for how much,” PR thrusts will get consumers to buy from retailers whom we should perhaps appreciate the most because of what they did for us in the pandemic and what they may do for us in the future.

    HEROES OF HEALTH. Once the public has more fully appreciated the heroism of medical professionals who risked their lives to help save ours, public attention and money may go to companies that are risking money to protect our lives. As bad as the coronavirus has been,CDC numbers show that each of us is many times more likely to be killed by cancer than by the coronavirus. So now that pubic interest in health is so intense, top PR firms may win intense public gratitude by finding ways to back a program or a department of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Whose product would most of us rather buy, one whose manufacturer is trying to protect us against cancer at
    Sloan Kettering or one who isn’t?

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