It’s everywhere you look. Growing public concern is compounded by event, conference and venue closures. An undertone of panic is fed by miscommunication. This brewing hysteria is leading companies to have to figure out their own individual approach to handling a situation that none of us really saw coming.

As companies evaluate the impact that the COVID-19 reaction is having on the global and local economy, it’s up to the key decision-makers and communication teams to make the difficult decisions on how to keep their customers, clients and community informed and protected, without damaging their business in the process.

We’ve put together the following outline to guide anyone facing tough decisions: whether you’re a business owner faced with the urgency of action, or a marketing professional faced with the need to develop a crisis plan. This guide will help to develop effective responses, allowing you to successfully maintain positive rapport with your key audiences, while leveraging both proactive and reactive crisis management tactics.

Step 1: Identify your audiences, and the primary concerns of each.

The first step in your crisis communications plan is to identify the different audiences that need to be communicated to. This is likely to include employees, investors, current and potential customers, but be sure to list any others. Each of these groups has different primary concerns, and the messaging you develop should reflect that understanding.

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Step 2: Analyse existing and potential outcomes to decide on what communication is required

It’s noisy out there. Contributing to the mess, or saying something “just to say something” is not the way to go, as it won’t ultimately support the relationship that your audiences have with your brand. Before diving into a press release, stop and consider:

  • Does your business actually need to address the COVID-19 situation?
  • How can you address it in a way that aligns with your company values and brand personality?

Then set up a daily ritual where you assess what parts of the crisis are directly related to your business. Analyse which parts affect your audiences, and what actions you need to take as a result. This ritual could be a solitary scroll through the news over your morning coffee, or a daily huddle at lunchtime with your key decision-makers.

Most importantly though – don’t send out messaging “just because”. Make sure that you have clear, meaningful messages that are actually helpful to your audiences.

Step 3: Make business adjustments as necessary, but don’t forget your company’s mission and values.

We’re receiving new developments about COVID-19 incredibly quickly. We’re getting constant updates on levels of transmission, new treatment options and new recommended precautions. As you get new information, you must be flexible enough to make temporary changes to your business operations, to ensure that your staff and clients are properly protected.

Once you’ve decided on a necessary action, take it promptly. In any crisis situation that involves direct impact for your business, the true risk is staying silent, or keeping all conversations behind the closed doors of the boardroom. Remember that negative external perception has the potential to grow only through a lack of communication, brand leadership and direction. If you handle these well, there will be no room for rumours and misjudgements.

It’s also a good idea to think ahead and decide what these changes will be in advance. That way, if they come to pass, you can move quickly.

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Step 4: Be a source of relevant, up-to-date and accurate information.

Information about COVID-19 is evolving at lightning speed. The media, and pseudo-experts on social platforms are also distorting that information just as quickly. It’s therefore essential that you stay updated with the most current information from the CDC and the WHO. Refer to these organisations for any resources and information that your audiences would need to stay informed.

Remember to effectively communicate the steps that your business is taking to address these concerns, and keep them updated accordingly.

Step 5: Communicate, but don’t sensationalise.

There’s a fine line between giving proper updates on a situation and sensationalising an sensitive topic. It’s important not to sound alarming in your messaging, or to falsely promise a business solution for it. Stick to the facts, and provide suggestions based on official information from the CDC and the WHO. There is much about the coronavirus that is unknown, and news can change rapidly. Sticking to factual sources will keep you from being swept up in the hype.

That said, do leverage your company channels to reach out to your audiences wherever they are online. Whether this is through email, social media or your website, get your message out there. Your audiences will remember your valuable contribution, even after this has all blown over.


With a clear crisis plan in place, your business can leverage the COVID-19 situation. It can be both a valuable resource to the public while maintaining audience loyalty. The most important thing here is to remain flexible. Allow your communications team to support your key audiences with agility, while ensuring that all your messages remain reflective of your brand values.

And if this is all a bit too much for you, take a breather and reach out to us. We’re happy to help you through it.