6 February 2020
Paddy Hintz, Senior Consultant
There’s a sound adage in PR: never waste a good crisis. Sometimes, the darkest hours can offer companies and individuals a chance to tell their story and represent themselves in a way that truly reflects their values and culture.
But in the case of the current crisis confronting the globe, sage counsel is advising business to tread extremely carefully.
Coronavirus is a quickly evolving story of intense interest. Every newsroom in the world has pulled journalists off their normal rounds to create teams dedicated to unearthing new information to provide constant 24-7 updates to the story.
Most businesses with links to China can expect an inquiry about how they think the virus will impact their business and their industry.
But this is not the time to beat the drum about your business or product.
Even if a business already has strong connections with journalists and thinks that providing a piece of information will help maintain those relationships, any comments you make on potential impacts run the risk of being at best, quickly out of date or, at worst, eventually found to misguided.
A polite, “We are monitoring the situation but are not yet ready to comment,’’ would be accepted by journalists as a reasonable response.
Of course, there are exceptions to these general rules.
If public safety can be enhanced by your contributions, then there is an imperative to comment. If wild rumors are likely to be reported which might affect your reputation, it’s also time to say something to correct the record or prevent misinformation spreading.
Keeping staff and customers up to date about business continuity and workforce health and safety is also essential.
If you do comment, tone is extremely important. This is not the time to take advantage of the limelight but do express your priorities for the safety and wellbeing of your staff and everyone else.
Cautious optimism about the future, to quell the rising sense of panic that sometimes seems to engulf us at times like this, will stand you in good stead, as will conveying your company’s willingness to work with others to find solutions. This could be something as simple as talking about remote working solutions for staff or measures taken by the company to ensure staff safety and wellbeing.
Do keep all your messaging, to staff, customers, and to media consistent. This is the time to ensure trust in your brand is enhanced, rather than eroded.