After the Re-start: How to Communicate About Your Next COVID Crisis

Many companies that shuttered production or closed offices due to the COVID-19 pandemic are now busy getting their facilities ready for a phased-in restart.

They are implementing safety measures such as deep cleaning, reworking schedules and workstations to allow for social distancing, implementing disinfectant and temperature check protocols, adding new signage and preparing employee training for new safety practices.

But are you ready to communicate when the inevitable happens?

Are you prepared to respond quickly, clearly and positively to mitigate the potential damage to your company’s reputation in the following situations that are likely to arise after your company re-opens operations?

What happens if employees refuse to return to work because they do not believe they will have adequate protection on the job?

What happens when one of your employees displays COVID-19 symptoms on the job and rumors among coworkers start spreading like wildfire?

What happens if employees walk out or strike at one of your facilities because they feel conditions have become unsafe or their complaints are not being heard?

What happens if a material shortage from one of your suppliers causes you to stop your own and, worse yet, your customer’s production?

• What happens when an employee posts some negative photos on social media that show unsafe or unsanitary behaviors in your facility?

What do you do when a TV news crew shows up in front of your facility, looking to interview employees about reports of unsafe conditions?

To handle these kinds of issues quickly, confidently and effectively, it helps to have a crisis communications plan ready and in hand. Implemented effectively, such a plan can help you to keep a problem from becoming a major crisis.

A good plan will help you anticipate potential problems that can arise, know how to assess the situation, identify key audiences, outline steps to be taken, have messaging and media materials ready to go, spell out staff roles in executing the plan, and make other key considerations in advance.

Outcomes are always better when plans are strategically developed before the issue arises, when there is time to consider audiences, activities, messages and their ramifications. It is more effective and productive to make these choices while you are not experiencing the pressure, anxiety and stress of a crisis.

Having a plan ready to go before the problem develops also helps to:

• align management agreement and buy-in,
• instill spokesperson confidence,
• prevent missteps or missed steps in execution, and
• speed your response in those critical times when minutes can mean the difference between a short-term problem and your bad news going viral.

The most dangerous crisis is the one for which your organization is unprepared.

So, to help you prepare, here is a quick crisis communications checklist:


[ ] Identify potential risk situations and their impact
( ) Issues / incidents that are likely
( ) Issues / incidents that are possible
( ) Audiences that will be most impacted
( ) Severity of potential impact
( ) Key concerns that will need to be address for each issue
( ) Anticipate most difficult questions around each of these situations

[ ] Identify your crisis team and responsibilities
( ) Who will be on team? HR, Legal, Communications, CEO, others?
( ) Create an internal quick-contact list of mobile phone numbers and email addresses for team
( ) Pre-arrange how the crisis team will communicate and how often
( ) Plan primary and secondary spokespeople appropriate for various situations (who best knows the specific issue?)

[ ] Develop a strategy that conveys authenticity, transparency and sensitivity around:
( ) Your company’s overall goals
( ) Your employees
( ) Your stakeholders
( ) Your channels – what channels exist and will be used for conversations with your employees and stakeholders?
( ) Other ongoing messaging – consider other communications efforts to make sure they won’t sabotage, conflict or show tone-deafness in light of the crisis

[ ] Create your communications materials
( ) Prepare a holding statement for initial use
( ) Prepare fact sheets on your facilities (size, employment number, products, customers, history, etc.)
( ) Create a living Q&A about what is known and unknown for consistency across the organization
( ) Consider and create other documents/activities you may need:

  • Talking points for Zoom or other online video calls
  • Employee letters / emails
  • Discussion points for face-to-face meetings
  • Website content
  • Updated media statements
  • Social media posts
  • Letters to community, other stakeholders
  • Press conference or media briefing materials
    ( ) Consider what core corporate messages might be appropriately incorporated into these communications

[ ] Anticipate the news cycle
( ) How might the situation play out in the media?
( ) What is the worst-case scenario in terms of media coverage?
( ) Will it flare up and then fizzle out quickly … or go on for weeks?
( ) What milestones or trigger events could extend its life in the news cycle?
( ) Monitor coverage as well as online reader comments and social media comments to determine public perception

[ ] Consider Media Relations Details
( ) Designate a single point of contact for media inquiries
( ) Communicate to all employees to that any media inquiries should be directed without comment to that single point of contact, especially all switchboard, reception and security / plant gate personnel
( ) Identify specific media outlets, reporters and channels that best address the stakeholders that will care about the situation
( ) Consider scope of the impact – does it affect only employees of a local plant or will it have statewide or national/international impact?
( ) What existing relationships with key reporters might be accessible?
( ) Consider timing of media deadlines in scheduling your activities

[ ] Review Media Training Tips
( ) Know what to say – Create and focus on approved key messages
( ) Know how to say it – Calmly, confidently and authentically with empathy
( ) Use appropriate non-verbal cues – gestures, body language and eye contact
( ) Give short, concise and factual answers
( ) Do not speculate, do not speak for others and do not answer hypothetical questions
( ) Confirm next steps and when updated information may be available
( ) Follow-up with media as promised, keep communications with them going

[ ] Remember to be pro-active, not reactive
( ) Do not delay a response in hopes that you will have more answers later
( ) Avoiding commenting often implies that you are hiding something
( ) It is fine to say what you know and explain what you do not yet know
( ) Media work around the clock 24/7/365, even if you don’t, so their calls will likely come at the most inopportune times
( ) If you don’t control the narrative, someone else will … and control will be difficult, if not impossible, to regain

For a printable checklist, click here.

If you would like a free consultation with us around your crisis communications action plan, email Jim Bianchi at

And if you would like to see other COVID-19 related communications resources, visit the PRGN COVID19 Resource Center.

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