To Weather the Coronavirus Storm, Establish Yourself as the Information Forum for Your Stakeholders

Daily Communication Builds Confidence and Comfort in these Very Trying Times               

3/23/2020 – – While much about the global coronavirus crisis is unprecedented, tried and true crisis communication techniques are being used successfully by leaders in both the private and public sectors. Making sure that you create and control the primary forum for information on your company or organization has proven to be especially important in this tense, dynamic environment.

In Chapter 14 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient – Measuring Your Readiness to Weather a Reputational Storm (“Tone, Tactics and Timeliness”) we discuss seven characteristics of effective crisis communications: FAST, FACTUAL, FOCUS, FEELING, FORUM, FEEDBACK and FLEXIBLE.

Uncertainty, loss of control and the fear of personal harm are present in the most severe crises. Faced with such challenges, individuals want answers and guidance. Driven by an understandable level of self-interest, they want to have a clear understanding of who is in charge and what they are doing to regain control. Under these conditions, there is almost no such thing as over communicating. And if you don’t establish yourself as the go-to source of information for your stakeholders, others will fill that void (often on social media) to your detriment.

Over the last week or so you may have been tuning into the daily briefings by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo or the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Establishing and following through day-by-day with these forums, Governor Cuomo and President Trump are assuring that the media and concerned citizens (ratings on cable news stations and radio are very strong) receive accurate, updated information and see first-hand that smart people are working 24/7 to understand the threats and get things back under control.

These informational press conferences can be contentious and frustrating when the news is not good and there are not answers for every question. But just the display — every day — of effort, expertise and commitment is comforting. You may or may not be a fan of Andrew Cuomo or Donald Trump, but it’s hard not to be impressed by their energy and engagement. I’ve been especially pleased and comforted by the competence of the White House Task Force members advising President Trump, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci,  public health expert Ambassador Deborah Birx, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, and Seema Verma, who heads the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). These are new national stars we knew little about before the crisis.

Thanks, I believe, in large measure to these forums, the approval ratings of Governor Cuomo and President Trump are climbing. A Monmouth University poll released today found that 50% of Americans think the President is doing a “good job” handling the crisis (45% feel he was doing a “bad job”). And his overall approval rating is at 46%, up from 44% in February. Results were even more positive for the President in an ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Friday. More than half, 55%, approved of his coronavirus leadership, with 43% disapproving.

I’m confident that approval ratings for corporate leaders who establish regular informational forums for their internal and external audiences will be strong as well. Just like a nation gains confidence and is comforted when it hears from elected leaders, employees and customers will respond positively to ongoing communications from the CEO and company experts (your own Fauci, Birx, Adams and Verma).

Think of how much you appreciate the emails you’ve been receiving (hopefully not every day) from the retailers, local governments, schools, banks and organizations that are a part of your life. In these crazy times, putting together a brief podcast (or even just an email message) every day to employees is well worth the effort. Imagine the isolation and fear building in workers operating from home. As media guru Marshall McLuhan observed about the power of television, “the medium is the message.” Not every communication has to be full of news. The ongoing human connection is what’s important.

In the days after the horrific attacks of 9/11, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani scheduled press briefings every few hours. Standing beside his police and fire commissioners, he provided information as it became available. Even though there were far more unknowns than knowns in those first emotional briefings, the Mayor effectively demonstrated that someone was in charge. The media turned to him to learn what was really happening.  He created the news forum and established himself as the defiant, unflappable face of New York City. He earned the title “America’s Mayor,” and will forever be remembered for his confident leadership during the city’s darkest hour.      

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