Forget “business as usual.” 2020 has already punted life as we know it into the ether and chucked us all into The Upside Down. As we all grapple with the transformation of our daily routines, our work-life balance and our business operations, communications take center stage.
As a leader in any field, consider these four strategies for communicators in the time of COVID-19.
- Do no harm. Apply a discerning filter to your external and internal communications. It’s a best practice anytime, but imperative right now. Will your communications or recommendation help our current situation? Have you fact-checked the article you’re about to share to ensure it’s from a real news source? Is what you’re saying accurate, timely and newsworthy?
In terms of your recommendations, are they compliant with current federal and local recommendations? Did you recommend a remote interview or meeting given social distancing? Doing so doesn’t just reflect well on your brand; it’s a must for public health and safety. Many studios even prefer remote interviews now. Ensure that everyone is on the same page to do the smart and the right thing.
- Verify with data. In uncertain times, intuition is important. We have to make some tough, quick calls. But we must hold our clients and ourselves to the same high standards that we always have. As New York news icon Roma Torre said in a powerful piece, “Facts matter, obviously, and now, with the coronavirus pandemic threatening all of us, getting the facts straight is a matter of life and death.”
This can be difficult when you or your spokesperson is being asked to speculate or answer the unanswerable. Make sure anything you’re saying or any recommendation you’re giving is grounded in fact. Make sure your spokespeople are trained to distinguish objective and subjective statements – and always lead with the facts.
Verifying with data also applies to evaluating effectiveness. It’s harder to prevent subjective bias in times like these (“I don’t think this works anymore…this feels like something the audience needs…”), when uncertainty and speculation abound. If you need perspective, though, consider this: The FDA doesn’t approve new therapies based on a “strong hunch.” We all need data-driven intelligence to underpin our decisions – especially now.
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- Focus on what matters. TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) is never a good look. Information overload threatens to overshadow critical messages. Focus communications on what actions your audience should take, or new information they need to know. This is especially true if you’re sharing resources with reporters related to COVID-19. Your organization may have five pages of key messages or 10 bullets of updates; it’s your responsibility to clarify and distill what’s essential.
- Self-care for your for creativity, strategy and leadership. Today, there are more resources than ever to help us stay connected, fit and sane. You can also try activities that help foster your creative and strategic thinking.
If you haven’t journaled or tried the practice of Morning Pages, go for it. During the last week, I’ve enjoyed taking a few minutes at lunchtime to sit with my children and do #MoLunchDoodles. Build or find playlists that help you power through projects or are there for your every #Mood.
Feeling overwhelmed or depressed may even stop you from writing out a “normal” to-do list. Be gentle with yourself as you encounter these feelings. Personally, I find relief by writing or just thinking about what I want the day to feel like for myself, the people I work with and my family.
Set blocks of time on your calendar to focus on big tasks. Give yourself a bit of mental space from all those Zoom meetings to unlock creativity and your strategic thoughts.
We may admire steely resolve and want cool heads to prevail. But as leaders, we also need to embrace and embody ALL the feelings, in the right settings. Some of my closest colleagues have set up a daily half-hour check chat, in which we can vent, problem-solve or simply share our anxieties. You want to be a genuine, positive and productive leader – and that means being transparent, vulnerable and supportive.
What are you finding works best? Are you leaning into tried-and-true communications strategies, or are you innovative and finding new ways to manage as this new normal unfolds? As Churchill said, “Never let a good a good crisis go to waste.” These are tough words to process especially as so much remains unclear, but hopefully strong communications can be a beacon as we proceed.
For new updates and other resources, please visit www.gscommunications.com/coronavirus. We’re here to help.