Best Practices for Crisis Communications During a Pandemic

The unpredictable effects of COVID-19 have left organizations wondering what’s next for them. No matter what direction your company takes, your number one priority should be communicating with your internal and external stakeholders.

Even businesses with solid crisis plans in place couldn’t have foreseen a pandemic scenario like the one unleashed by the global spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). After the initial shock triggered by social distancing restrictions, not to mention the stock market tumble, organizations need to keep their focus on maintaining business continuity. Whether your business is deemed “essential” or “non-essential” under the new emergency directives, how you communicate can protect your bottom line and corporate reputation. Here are three things every organization should prioritize.

Stay informed

In an environment where things are changing by the hour, ensure your leadership team is informed. Consider assigning responsibility to one member of the leadership team to stay up to date on these critical matters and share pertinent information about:

  • The latest knowledge about the virus, its transmission and risk mitigation best practices to ensure you are doing everything you can to keep your employees and customers safe.
  • Federal, state and local government directives to ensure your company’s practices are in compliance and that your messaging is consistent with the official channels your stakeholders are following.
  • Accurate data on the state of your workforce: if any employees have become sick and/or have potentially exposed others to COVID-19, you’ll need to communicate promptly and transparently to reduce the risk of further contamination. This will also help you manage customer expectations in the event of delays, cancelations or other disruptions.
  • Changes to employee benefits, such as the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, that need to be communicated to your staff so they have the information they need should they become sick.

Communicate with empathy and clarity

These are unprecedented circumstances that are causing anxiety and stress for your employees, customers and other stakeholders. Keep in mind that everyone has become more vulnerable, health wise and financially, so communicate and act with empathy. As everyone is grappling with information overload, be concise, clear and as consistent as possible to avoid confusion and minimize uncertainty. These tools can help your organization:

  • Align your leadership team around a central theme that articulates how your organization is handling the impact of coronavirus, e.g., “We are switching production to help with virus mitigation efforts (going from making alcoholic beverages to producing hand sanitizer),” OR, “We prioritize safety and continue to serve our customers from remote locations without any interruption to business.”
  • Develop a brief key message document and rely on it every time you develop an update. Ensure all your functions that interface with important stakeholders have access to the latest communications, e.g., sales, marketing, public policy, legal, HR, help desks.
  • Keep your communications channels up to date (website, social channels, e-mail campaigns, etc.) and ensure the advertising or eblasts you are running don’t appear tone deaf under the current circumstances. Also understand that people are currently overwhelmed with emails from all sectors of their life so be judicious with how often or in what mediums you communicate.
  • Communicate with timeliness and regularity to instill confidence. Regardless of your message, transparency and empathy are of key importance.

Revisit your crisis communications plans

Whether you have a crisis communications plan in place or are starting from scratch, now’s the time to implement a flexible framework that will help you communicate effectively. Here are a few key steps to follow:

  • Assemble the crisis communications team if you already have one designated, or put one together ensuring cross-functional representation, e.g., executive, HR, legal, operations, marketing, etc.
  • Take inventory of your impacted stakeholders, e.g., employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, students, families, regulatory officials, civic leaders, etc.
  • Identify potential scenarios related to the impact of COVID-19 your organization could face, e.g., COVID-19 employee infection and/or exposure, workplace safety issues, safety protocol violations, business and/or supply chain disruptions, challenges caused by a remote workforce, delays in securing regulatory approvals, etc.
  • Develop standard notification templates that can be easily updated for specific audiences and communication channels, e.g., e-mails, text alerts, answering service scripts, social posts.
  • Assign a spokesperson and outline a streamlined review and approval process for both proactive and reactive media statements.

To help organizations navigate this challenging environment, download our Crisis Communication Response Roadmap. If you have questions or are looking for additional support, our consultants are ready to help you; contact us at or at 314.469.3500.

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The Complete Guide to Crisis Communications Planning
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The Complete Guide to Crisis Communications Planning

We hope this step-by-step guide helps you assess your organization’s preparedness for a crisis.

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