Lockdown restrictions are easing, businesses are re-opening, and Australia is gradually getting up and running again – but this doesn’t mean that your business is free to act as if the coronavirus no longer exists.
The very fact that things are returning to ‘normal’ means that your staff are potentially at greater risk of contracting the disease – whether that’s on public transport, at a cafe, or during working hours.
The unfortunate truth is every new coronavirus case is a massively newsworthy story, and the media will never be very far behind. Thankfully, there are many things you can do right now to help prepare your business for the worst.
Social distancing… even on social media
Social distancing measures remain imperative for any business, both for the safety of staff and to avoid making headlines for all the wrong reasons. As a PR professional, it drives me crazy when I see recent photos and video footage being shared online featuring members of a business or organisation who are not social distancing.
This alone might not necessarily lead to a full-blown crisis, but consider the long-term optics: if your business does end up with a positive case – or worse, and outbreak – you’re bound to regret those careless moments in the long run. It’s very difficult to avoid blame if it’s clear you’ve been flouting social distancing rules.
Businesses need to lead by example, and demonstrate that they’re keeping both their staff and external stakeholders safe. Ultimately, it’s about showing a respect for correct procedure, and taking the risks of the pandemic seriously. You might even want to consider not using old photos that very clearly portray people not observing social distancing, to avoid misperceptions.
Reassure your customers
The other benefit of taking the pandemic seriously is to reassure customers and clients that your business is safe to engage with. Loudly communicate all the different ways that you’re maintaining good practices, especially if they’re things that are happening behind closed doors. Even stickers on the floor placed 1.5m apart is a reassuring sight for anyone who is still cautious to go out into a public space.
With all these measures in place, you can honestly and transparently say you’ve done everything you can to avoid a case of COVID-19 infecting your business. Then, if a crisis still manages to strike, you’ll be able to avoid any criticism that you weren’t doing enough.
You might think that sharing your cleaning routine with your customers is unnecessary, but that’s exactly the kind of communication your patrons are searching for. And if it’s a choice between you and your less communicative competitors, who do you think they’re going to choose? In these new realities we’re living in, being seen as the ‘safe choice’ is never a bad thing.
Aside from making your efforts incredibly clear in-store, make sure you’re on top of your business’s social media accounts, website and email list, so that you can communicate quickly and effectively with the people who need to know.
Prepare a statement
Prepare for such a scenario by putting yourself in the shoes of anyone who might be hearing this potentially alarming information for the first time. Write a holding statement, which is a pre-prepared statement that you prepare ahead of time and hold on to until you need it.
Make sure it’s flexible enough to be adapted to the specific conditions of the hypothetical situation if it does occur. All messaging should be designed to assure your staff, customers, and stakeholders and emphasise calm.
Make sure you regularly update this statement to reflect the changing conditions of the pandemic itself, as things can change dramatically in a matter of days.
Issues management 101 advises that in a crisis, businesses should put together a short, factual statement that doesn’t contain much emotion and is as short as possible. And when questioned by media, customers or concerned community members, you then repeat the same phrase over and over again.
I disagree. Instead, I advise you to ask: ‘is this story going to be talked about regardless of our assistance?’ If the answer is yes, then it’s much better to be as helpful as possible. If your business chooses to stay silent, that’s when inaccuracies come up. That’s when hype and hysteria can mutate the story and turn it into something it’s not or blown out of proportion.
If you have prepared well and shown at minimum the expected level of care, then you have nothing to hide. Being helpful, transparent, confident in your response, and demonstrating care, will ensure your business is not the problem – the unavoidable effects of living in a pandemic are. It will mean that your business is seen as safe to return to once you have gone through the health protocols such as deep cleaning and isolation.