During a crisis, PR and communications can sometimes feel like an afterthought, but it’s often the most critical need. As the current global health pandemic turns the world upside down, companies and organizations need to rethink their way of operating and how to continue connecting with a variety of stakeholders.
For USGBC, our work and mission have not stopped. Our offices and routines may look a little different, but our vision for the future is stronger than ever. However, just like other organizations, we had to make adjustments and consider what was most important in communicating with our community. Here are some tips for keeping your communications in check during a crisis.
What do you need to communicate?
In a crisis, you can almost never communicate too frequently. Sure we’re all getting a little tired of those emails from airline CEOS and executives, but when you look at the big picture, they’re very committed to keeping their customers updated and aware of changes and new information that might impact them.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What message would you like to hear? A crisis is a complicated and emotional time. Be supportive, show empathy and point people toward resources or information that are most helpful in that moment. USGBC’s CEO sent a message to our community reinforcing that during this crisis, our priority is the health and well-being of one another. The most important thing you want to be is authentic, and remember—a crisis is a time to be human.
Who do you need to communicate to?
Your customers or external community might be the first audience you think of communicating with during a crisis, but some others you don’t want to ignore include employees, boards of directors, volunteer groups and partners. Each of your stakeholders contributes to your success, and it’s important you find ways to stay connected.
In most cases, employees should be your first stop. Make sure they feel supported, then continue to think through tools and resources they might need to keep working. USGBC sends a weekly media roundup to senior leaders with the latest news on USGBC, LEED and sustainability. We adapted the newsletter to include stories on COVID-19’s impact on building and construction. It’s not all-inclusive, but it provides a snapshot of relevant information during a turbulent time.
In addition to your staff, think about what your other stakeholders need from you right now. USGBC posted an article answering the top questions we are receiving about COVID-19. We update and reshare the piece as new information becomes available. We also created a COVID-19 resources section on our website that will house updates related to the pandemic, but that also includes existing information our community might find useful right now.
What do we need to change?
Carefully evaluate what promotional activities you have planned, and determine if it’s appropriate to move forward. Be honest about what might need to be put on pause and what new information or programs you might need to create.
Here are a few questions to ask before making any decisions:
- Does this campaign or program make sense right now?
- What might need to change within our existing plans?
- What new information does our community need, and how can we support that?
One of the first decisions USGBC made was to move all in-person events to 2021. It required outreach to sponsors, speakers, exhibitors, attendees, staff and other stakeholders. Those communications were carefully considered, and each was executed by the appropriate person. In addition, our CEO published a message on our website that summarized these changes and how people could contact us if they had additional questions.
What should we be publishing?
From a content perspective, we looked at what was on the calendar and developed a new plan for highlighting information that would be most useful to our audiences now. We knew our virtual events and legislative updates were going to be critical. We also identified topics and resources that have become more relevant, such as indoor air quality. We developed a plan for sharing information on those strategies to keep our community informed.
It’s also important to find ways to be positive. As Mr. Rogers told us as children, “Look for the helpers.” During challenging times, we all need something that can bring us together and give us a reason to smile. USGBC is a convener for the green building industry, and it was important to us to find ways to keep our community connected. We started sharing the incredible ways our members and community were stepping up to help during this unimaginable time, and it’s a message we’ll continue to share.
What do we say to media?
USGBC decided to hold its announcements for at least a month, knowing that media would be focused on COVID-19 and its impact. Our job then became finding out whether reporters were “all COVID all the time,” or if they still wanted to receive other news. We reached out through email, but also monitored Twitter to see what reporters were saying.
Keep in mind, too, that during a crisis, you never want to force yourself into the conversation. A journalist’s job is to keep the public informed, and crises are times of confusion. So, unless you are qualified to contribute valid, expert information on the crisis, stick to your area of expertise.
Crises are chaotic and often produce a lot of lessons after the fact. If you aren’t sure what to do, be proactive, be human, gather information on what your audiences are experiencing, and know that the crisis will end—so think about what’s next, too.
I find that Cision is a great resource for communicators. You can view their tools and resources and sign up for webinars to dive deeper into topics like crisis communications.