Why good comms practices are more important than ever

How can communicators help their stakeholders and audiences through the current crisis around COVID-19? PRSA Chair Garland Stansell says it’s all about the basics.

When looking to address the coronavirus outbreak, communicators are well-served by best practices that have been in place for years.

Pitching relevant information to reporters, making sure your information is timely and accurate, and other time-honored traditions of the PR trade are even more important in a crisis.

PRSA Chair Garland Stansell shared a few thoughts with us about how PR pros can help their organizations and communities:


PR Daily: Misinformation and sensationalism have become big problems for communicators around the coronavirus. How can communicators combat the panic?

Stansell: First and foremost, it’s important for communicators themselves to remain calm and not let the wish for expediency get in the way of the need for accuracy. One way to help combat panic is to point consumers to reputable and respected sources of information. For example, there are numerous local and national agencies with experience and expertise surrounding the coronavirus and who’ve dealt with similar situations in the past. They can be relied upon to provide reliable facts and figures in a timely manner.


PR Daily: What should communicators be talking about? Share some concrete steps/actions.

Stansell: Communicators should be talking about how to keep their constituencies, both internal and external, informed and also prepared for how changing circumstances might affect them, both inside and outside of the workplace. Concrete steps and actions should include frequent reports and updates, using methods/vehicle that are deemed most appropriate and expedient for an organization’s particular needs. It’s also crucial, when talking to the press, to make sure that the information you’re presenting is timely, accurate and not superfluous to what the publication might be interested in/looking for.


PR Daily: Is there an organization/group that is doing a good job and has good resources on the coronavirus?

Stansell: The CDC website has comprehensive information that is easily navigable and frequently updated. Particularly useful is the Communication Resources section, which includes such tools as informational fact sheets and posters, explanatory videos, travel advice and information tailored to specific audiences.


PR Daily: What lessons should we take from the response to the coronavirus so far?

Stansell: Paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling, it’s important to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs. And echoing what I mentioned above, it should always be facts first, actions second.



No Responses to “Why good comms practices are more important than ever”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    Good is good but better is even better and best is best.

    It is good to point out as the first question does that sensationalism has become a big problem for communicators. It may be even better
    to point out that sometimes the problem is how to be sensational ENOUGH so you are successful.

    Coronavirus is infecting hundreds of thousands and killing too many, so warnings to be successful may have to be not just expert but more sensational if we want brave-feeling but stupid teenagers to not throng together on beaches.

    Little Bill Novelli was sensational—and sensationally successful—in his work to protect millions of lives against cigarettes. Sensationalism can be good!

    Activists may one day lie about your management, lie about your company, and march in front of your office chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, these bastards have got to go!” But if the alleged bastards and your company are actually serving the public importantly and maybe magnificently, your denial may be more successful and damn well justified if you are truthful but sensational.

    Stansell says “it’s important for communicators to remain calm.” Why? Is there anything so great or holy about calmness? An impassioned advocate may be a lot more persuasive than some boring spokesperson who asks a crowd “please listen to reason.”

    Don’t let “the wish for expediency,” Stansell says, “get in the way” of accuracy. But who says you can’t be expedient and 100% accurate at the same time?

    Look what Stansell says “communicators should be talking about”—stuff about “keeping constituencies informed.” But if you’re in a crisis and your management is an innocent victim of activists yelling curses plus false charges about your management, if the activists are making good on a threat that said in effect said “give us what we demand or we’ll turn your good name into manure,” don’t waste your opportunity to WIN for your management and your future career.

    When you’re in the PR fight of your life to protect your management against accusations that are bullshit, Stansell’s advice to “remain calm” may be good. But sensationlism and your passion that saves your patient’s life may be BEST.

    “In war,” said General Douglas MacArthur–and some of the world’s most successful PR executives would agree–“there is no substitute for victory!”

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