Why the next stage of coronavirus recovery means you must update your crisis plans now

The lockdown is gradually easing and more of normal life is slowly returning.

Many businesses either have teams already back in the workplace or are planning for a safe return in the coming weeks and months.

Our television and radio studios are now open again, for example, while the majority of our training takes place online.

We’ve already looked in some detail in this media training blog about how businesses can prepare for this next stage by raising their profile through improving the news-gathering among their colleagues and providing journalists with the stories that will result in good coverage (and we have a specific online story identification course which can help you with this).

But, while we don’t want to be the voice of doom and gloom, what if things don’t go to plan and the media spotlight falls on you for the wrong reasons?

Some of the pubs that reopened on Saturday, for example, have already had to close again after customers tested positive for coronavirus. And in the US, we’ve already seen some stores, like Apple, close for a second time after pandemic cases spiked in certain areas.


Would you know what to say to the media and your customers if you found yourself in a similar situation? Would you know what to say to your teams?

This next stage of the long-term COVID-19 recovery is likely to be particularly challenging for businesses with difficult decisions to be made and circumstances far beyond their control.

They are likely to face crisis media management scenarios that are not covered in their existing crisis plans and have not been prepared for.

Here are some of the key ones we have identified:


Local lockdown

We have already seen the government enforce a local lockdown in Leicester.

And other areas that could face similar action are being regularly discussed in the media.

What impact would a local lockdown have on your business? How would it affect your supply chain?

Perhaps you're not based in a lockdown area, but have staff who are – what consequences would that have?

What messages would you need to get across to customers, suppliers and staff.


Job loses

Big job losses is not a new crisis media management scenario. But with many companies announcing cuts in the past weeks, this is something which is firmly at the top of the media agenda.

Airbus, Royal Mail, Easyjet, McLaren and Harrods are just some the big-name brands that have announced recent job cuts.

And more will follow suit as the economic consequences of the crisis gradually emerge.

Could your organisation be in a position where it has to announce job losses?

If that’s likely, do you have spokespeople who will be able to come across as human and show empathy when they are discussing such bad news? And have they had training to be able to deliver this message effectively online via videoconferencing software?

The team here have lost count of the number of interviews and presentations that we’ve witnessed with unflattering and sometimes simply inappropriate camera angles. What does it say to your team when you can’t even be bothered to invest to learn how to make these things better?

What you can learn from how one boss announced the loss of 390 jobs 


Ignoring restrictions

We’ve all probably seen some pictures in the media of bars and pubs that appear to have ignored social distancing restrictions since reopening.

Almost everyone has a smartphone these days enabling them to quickly take photos and post them on social media. And often that, in turn, leads to mainstream media coverage.

What would you do if your business or staff were accused of ignoring the government restrictions with photographs circulating on these channels?  

Would you be able to respond with the speed social media demands? Would you know what to say?


Permanent closure of parts of the business

Another grim economic consequence of the pandemic is the closure of offices, shops, restaurants and bars.

Pret A Manger, for example, recently announced the closure of 30 of its 410 UK shops because of ‘significant operating losses’.

And, The Restaurant Group, which owns Frankie and Benny's, has confirmed plans to shut 125 sites.

As with job losses, showing concern and sounding human is key. But you also need to be able to outline all the action you have taken to try to prevent having to make the closures.

Could your spokesperson do that?


A staff member becomes ill with coronavirus

As we have already mentioned, more and more of us are returning to the workplace and this is only going to increase in the coming weeks and months.

But what would you do if a member of your team becomes ill or dies with the virus?

Many businesses will probably have already planned for this scenario, but does that planning include external and internal communication? 

Are you clear on what you would tell other workers? And how you would communicate to them. Have you identified a member of the HR, welfare or senior management teams to deliver this news? Are they suitably compassionate and emotionally literate enough to deliver this message or would further training or coaching help?

What would you tell the media if they became aware of this situation or if you decided to temporarily close that office or shop?


All of these scenarios could trigger negative headlines and broadcast media coverage as well as huge internal communication challenges.

But the good news is that by identifying those that are more likely to affect your business now, you can adapt and update your crisis communication plans and consider how you would manage them.

This should include drafting holding statements that will allow you to respond quickly.

It should also involve identifying any training needs among your spokespeople – perhaps they have not had any media interviews recently – and your wider crisis communications team.

The key to good crisis media management has always been preparation. The better prepared you are the more you will be able to communicate with confidence and clarity when a crisis strikes.

And the same applies to these scenarios that coronavirus has brought to the fore.

How can we help?

Well, we can prepare your spokespeople for the unique pressures of media interviews carried out during a crisis by putting them to the test with our current working journalist tutors. This can be carried out face-to-face or on video conferencing software.

We can put your crisis team to the test with a remote crisis management testing course that will see whether your plans don’t just look good on paper but also work under intense pressure.

And we can help get your messaging right – both internally and externally – with a message development and testing course.

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 35 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

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Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.

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