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On the edge of panic: Coronavirus crisis planning

Two weeks ago, we’d never heard of it. Now, it’s on the TV every time you turn it on. It’s splashed over the front page of every newspaper. It’s priority one in every business. The Coronavirus.

As communicators, our challenge here is one of the biggest challenges we can face. How do we manage a reputation through the Coronavirus scare? And how do we stay calm and offer reasoned and sound advice to our leadership team or Executive?

The genie team has become adept at staying calm in all sorts of sticky situations, ranging from very public banking crises, industrial accidents, redundancy programmes, business sales, #metoo and even a murder. A crisis like this offers us the opportunity to use communications tools to solve business problems.

We’ve done some thinking about some of the scenarios we believe businesses will need to plan for:

Colleague quarantine

In the early stages of the virus, there’s a possibility that a colleague or colleagues will be quarantined at home or in the hospital. The first case of Coronavirus in every organisation will lead to nervousness. How do we use communications tools to ensure that the rest of our colleagues feel safe coming into work?

Partial business closure

Businesses may need to partially close an office or location (when there is more than one location). What can we do to make sure colleagues understand that they’re safe, and how do we activate remote working to maintain customer care?

Full closure

At some stage, businesses may close in full. Their offices, branch networks, hotels or entire business may be closed. Staff could be quarantined at home or in the hospital. How do we communicate with customers, partners and suppliers to let them know what we’re doing to mitigate any long term business impact? How do we manage customer expectations when they need to speak to us the most?

High colleague absence

What if our absence levels of colleagues becomes too high? What can we do to ensure we’re protecting our reputation whilst managing the health and safety of our colleagues and customers?

Keeping calm under pressure: our top tips

We’ve talked previously about how to manage a crisis and what behaviours you should be calling on. We’ve applied some of our top tips to Coronavirus.

1. There is no perfect time to panic

We’ve been working with a business that has wanted to send emails to colleagues every day telling them not to panic.

Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. THERE IS NOTHING TO PANIC ABOUT. DO NOT PANIC!!!!

By overcommunicating, we’re just putting this right at the front of people’s minds. Develop a page on your intranet and keep it up to date with the latest information from either the WHO or the NHS. Keeping colleagues informed is really important, and you should try to create a regular time to send out a communication. People want to know what’s going on, but you can do this in a way that feels controlled.

2. You are not the expert here

Everybody has a view on this new disease, but nobody expects you or your business to be the leader in the field of contagious disease. Do not try to write information yourself, but lean on credible sources for colleagues and customers such as the NHS. If you talk to customers or colleagues, talk to them about what you’re doing to keep them safe and able to carry on.

3. Plan!

Creating a clear plan in advance of a scenario hitting is absolutely key to successfully navigating the situation. As part of this plan, you should establish a crisis team including cross functional team members from your business. Identify key spokespeople and make sure they are media trained and capable of speaking on behalf of your business. Include their contact details in case crisis hits out of hours (it nearly always does!).

Develop clear and consistent messages that can be tweaked to reflect the scenario that you're managing, and make sure your internal and external messaging is consistent. This means you need a plan that is consistent for colleagues and social media as well as the press. Have a practice run to put your plan to the test. Have a daily check in call to make sure that you’re on top of the latest developments with the virus, to be one step ahead of the game.

4. No comment is never the right answer

You should have pre-drafted statements for colleagues, customers and other stakeholders that are ready to go in the event of any Coronavirus scenario. If you need to respond to an incident, issue a statement to customers, partners, suppliers, colleagues and the press. Be sensitive if there are people involved that have become sick, and express concern on behalf of your organisation. Make sure that any colleague or media enquiries come through a single point of contact, to ensure message consistency and to avoid confusion. This may not be you!

5. Be bold

Sometimes as communicators, it's our job to tell the Exec the things they don't want to hear. This is never more true than in the time of an incident such as this. This is the time for us to take control of the situation, which will involve moving people outside their comfort zones. Equally important is to manage the communication flow to these key individuals as the situation unfolds. Visibly sharing information will allow these stakeholders to see that you have everything under control.

6. If you need help, ask for it

If you're struggling to keep the crisis under control, or you're not confident to make the necessary decisions, ask for help. There are teams of people out there, like here at genie, who can take the pressure away from you and be your point of contact if you need it.

How we can help

If you need a bit of support or just would like some advice, contact We appreciate how challenging this is, and are more than happy to offer an initial advisory conversation - on the house.


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