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Comms in a Crisis…the 4 BEs

The Covid-19 crisis has now reached unforeseen levels. There isn’t a lot of precedent for the situation we see unfolding across the globe. Schools are closed. Businesses are closed. Employees are getting laid off. As the crisis ramps up and drives citizens en masse to buy large quantities of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, the importance of trusted and reliable communication cannot be understated.

How companies, schools and elected leaders talk with their stakeholders will play a central role in maintaining calm and delivering reliable information as we hope for life to return to normal as soon as possible.

We’d like to offer a very simple formula for business leaders and elected officials to keep audiences informed and trusting during these potentially scary and uncertain times.

It starts with an understanding of the news environment and the impact reporting is having on the confidence and happiness of those watching.

U.S. media treated Covid-19 as a lower priority story at first. It was a busy news-cycle as the impeachment debates dominated headlines. People assumed the virus was just an “Asia thing,” and we would be largely spared.

Today, we know that ignoring it and hoping it would just go away was not an effective strategy—for communication or public health.

What has the advancing panic done to your workforce confidence and to the psyche of your audiences?

As fear builds, how should lead and communicate?

To be effective in building and maintaining confidence, our team encourages leaders to remember “BE”s

BE consistent. In your messaging, medium and frequency stay measured and disciplined. In doing so, anticipate the needs and questions of the audience. Find a good balance between truth and empathy in your messaging and deliver it in timely and relied-upon periodicity.

BE factual. Bad information is worse than no information.  Make sure you tell them exactly what you know and what you don’t know. If you don’t know something, don’t speculate, but work tirelessly to get that information to those that need it.

BE candid. Honesty is the best policy for a reason. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer study determined that Americans put very little trust in the media alone when it comes to receiving information. The vast majority of workers look to their CEOs to speak out and up on issues that affect the workforce and society, and people grant their trust based on two distinct considerations: competence (getting things done) and ethical behavior (doing the right thing and working to improve society).

Finally…Don’t BE cute. Clever or ironic written or social media content that’s nuanced or requires a sense of humor seldom works when people are scared or stressed. Don’t lose the audience’s trust and by posting or sending something silly or ill-timed.

Now more than ever your employees and your constituents want to hear from you. Heed the “BE”s …and in communicating, remember good leadership makes for the best public relations.

John Schofield and Chris Servello are co-founders of ProVision Advisors, a Public Relations and Executive Coaching firm located in Northern VA and Annapolis, MD. John Schofield was the former Director of Communications at the U.S. Naval Academy and retired in 2017. Chris Servello is a 1999 USNA graduate and retired Navy Public Affairs Officer.

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