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MEMO: COMMUNICATIONS GUIDANCE REGARDING COVID-19

Updated: 03-19-2020
To: Interested parties
From: John Finotti, Vice President (904-891-3867)
Lauren Steif, Account Executive (561-644-3709)

Tucker/Hall is sharing the following guidance to assist organizations with their


communications efforts concerning the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). The
information below is based on best practice recommendations from Tucker/Hall, the
Institute for Crisis Management, International Association of Business
Communicators as well as McKinsey & Co., global business consultants.

Stock markets have crashed, borders are closing, and it appears the COVID-19 virus will
continue to get worse before it gets better. The impact on businesses is being felt
everywhere -- from travel bans to supply and delivery delays, to production and forecast
adjustments.

As organizations adjust to these new uncertainties, communications professionals need to


keep a clear head, stay ruthlessly focused on the future and use the current “down time”
productively. As the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, the greatest enemy
may not be the virus itself, it’s the fear, rumors and stigma associated with it. “Our
greatest assets are facts, reason and solidarity,” according to WHO.

In this atmosphere, we’ve advised our clients to only use sources of information that can
be verified and trusted, such as the WHO, the Centers for Disease control and Prevention
(CDC) and national and local health authorities.

It’s a good idea to appoint someone in your organization as a single point of contact who
can check for updates and daily new information that will help debunk rumors.

Make sure your communications are people-oriented and be sensitive in all messaging to
the concerns of your stakeholders –staff, customers, suppliers, contractors, your
community, the media and other stakeholders specific to your business.

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Here are some specific activities we recommend:

Communicate with your key stakeholders: your employees, customers, business partners,
vendors and any government regulators or oversight agencies. They want to know what
specific steps you are taking. Absence of information creates doubt.

• First, in all communications, we suggest you strike a tone that is forthright and
that avoids clichés and platitudes. Tell what you are doing, and how you are
preparing for what will be a rapidly changing environment. In times of crisis,
maintaining your credibility as an honest presenter of accurate information is
key.

• Second, since a range of outcomes is possible, it is best in your planning to


consider a variety of scenarios and not to speculate in your communications but to
respond only to facts known to you based on reputable sources noted earlier.

• Third, beware of rumors and scammers. Every crisis of this nature brings out
opportunists who will try to capitalize on fear, and others who often unwittingly
share inaccurate and speculative information. Be mindful of this and use credible
sources for the facts.

SOURCES FOR CREDIBLE INFORMATION:


There are numerous sources of excellent, science-based information for your
reference. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control website
(https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html) is packed with valuable
information to help you. We consider this site one of the best resources for the
information needed to prepare, prevent and mitigate the effects of COVID-
19. Guidelines to help keep the workforce safe, tips to protect yourself, the latest
updates, and how to prepare are among the resources on the site.

The CDC also offers several free communication resources in multiple languages for
organizations, including handouts and posters, videos and guidelines for public health
communicators.

If your organization is international in scope, the World Health Organization


(www.who.int) is another excellent source of science-backed information.

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Key media outlets like The New York Times (www.NYTimes.com) have made their
COVID-19 articles and data available free of charge. You can sign up for a daily update
newsletter to stay abreast of COVID-19 news.

The Wall Street Journal published a useful article titled “The Coronavirus and Your Job:
What the Boss Can—and Can’t—Make You Do” (https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-
coronavirus-and-your-job-can-my-boss-make-me-do-that-
11583981316?shareToken=stf12f1f69fd80471fbcee9b8c39052f7a&reflink=article_email
_share)

BUSINESS CONSIDERATIONS:
Your goals should include both readiness for the potential impact on your organization,
building resilience of your team and effective business continuity. Ongoing discussions
should consider:
• What are the potential impacts on your business, and what are the key indicators
you will use to measure them?
• Do you have an effective alert system in place to stay atop local, regional and
worldwide developments and take them into consideration in your daily decision
making and communications?
• Is your business continuity program sufficient to address this kind of crisis? If
not, what do you need to do now to shore it up?
• Do you have vendors and business partners that you rely heavily on, and what is
their plan to respond to COVID-19? Are you in regular communication with your
business partners? What are their contingency plans?
• Are you prepared to keep the business on track if there is an outbreak among your
employees?
• If your business is threatened, what percent of our employees can work from
home? Do they have the right equipment and network access to telework?
• If your business depends on employees being on-site, what protections do you
need to provide for them to continue to come to work? Do you have a
contingency plan if there is an outbreak in your workplace(s)?
• Do you have any large meetings or conferences planned in the near future? What
are the costs and benefits to postpone or cancel large meetings?

CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS:
• Do you have a crisis communications plan? If yes, does it include an action plan
for a widespread health emergency?

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• Who are your most important stakeholders? Arguably, employees are your most
important audience, followed by customers (however they are defined), vendors,
investors/funding sources and other business partners.
• Employees are most concerned about their own health and that of their loved
ones. Are you providing the information they need on how they can protect
themselves and their families?
• Do you need to update/create/implement policies regarding working remotely,
business travel, conferences and meetings, supply chain continuity, and other
concerns?
• Do you have an intranet, mass communication platform or other highly effective
means of communicating quickly with your entire employee base? Are your
contacts updated?
• What do your communications strategies need to address? Ideally,
communications are addressing the actions you are taking to create awareness,
protect people, instill confidence, build trust and enhance credibility.
• Who is responsible for communicating to each audience? What is the best vehicle
to reach each audience quickly and effectively? How are you keeping leadership
updated?
• Key messages, talking points and Q&A should be prepared, approved and placed
in the hands of all those who are responsible for communicating with various
stakeholders.

The Coronavirus and COVID-19 is a story with an unclear ending. What is clear is
that the human impact is already tragic and that companies have an imperative to act
immediately to protect their employees, address business challenges and risks and help
mitigate the outbreak in whatever ways they can.

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