Poverty, climate change, demographic change – the coronavirus belongs to a group of global problems known as “Wicked Problems”. Our Belgian partner PM – Risk Crisis Change describes what the phenomenon of the wicked problem is about, how society reacts to it and what we should actually do in his latest blog post (available in English and Dutch).
Since the number of corona infections in Northern Italy has skyrocketed at the end of February, the virus has been spreading rapidly in Europe, but also in other parts of the world outside Asia. In the first few days, companies were particularly concerned that their own operations would be named in connection with corona-positive employees and that the brand’s reputation could suffer. But the focus of crisis prevention and communication is shifting more and more. The more the number of infected people increases the less the focus will be on individual companies.
What does this mean for crisis communication?
- External communication is primarily about making no mistakes, demonstrating empathy and a willingness to engage in dialogue, but also credibly underpinning with measures that the health of employees is a high priority. As long as the decision-makers follow the recommendations of the authorities, they are also on the safe side in their communications.
- Internal communication is highly sensitive these days. People’s nervousness will continue to rise and it is therefore important that circulars, postings and intranet contributions reach and reassure employees. Examples from the past few days show how great the fear is. There are companies in which disinfectants are stolen or colleagues are stigmatized who come to work with a cold. More than ever it is therefore important to put time and care into internal communication. Companies need to convey the feeling that they have things under control, without trivialising, and that they are seriously addressing the concerns of their employees.
In addition to the communicative dimension, manufacturing companies in particular face another challenge: Is it still possible to ensure the ability to deliver even if the situation continues to deteriorate? When trade partners ask, it is also important to provide a comprehensive account of what is being done to protect against infection and prevent crises.
Daily reassessment of measures
The spread of the coronavirus presents the entire world with completely new challenges. There are hardly any blueprints and checklists for the pandemic that need to be worked through in crisis communication according to a schedule. This makes it all the more important to act intelligently and situationally and to reassess one’s own communication strategy and action planning every day.
Camera crews filming outside the company headquarters, a mass of media enquiries and employees with a pressing need for information – when new viruses like the coronavirus run rampant and pictures also appear in the main news stories of a deserted Chinese city home to millions of people, stress levels rise in internationally active businesses and crisis units. Because epidemics like SARS or the coronavirus can completely disrupt operational processes. They can lead to temporary site closures, as in the case of the Bavarian automotive supplier. Against this backdrop, many questions arise within crisis management, including:
- How does working alongside health authorities actually work? Who speaks to whom and when? And who has authority over whom?
- What do we do when the virus is directly associated with the company?
- Which course of action do I choose: only implement what has been arranged in consultation with the authorities? Or do we go above and beyond, taking additional measures that will be advantageous to our public image?
- How best to include affected employees?
- And how do we handle what experience shows will be a tidal wave of media interest?
- What do pandemics actually mean for customer relations?
- And what if the crisis team is sent into quarantine?
Crisis prevention is half the battle
In crisis communication, it is common knowledge that crisis prevention is half the battle. But are companies actually prepared for crisis situations associated with epidemics? Probably not, because events like the coronavirus are rare. Crisis management generally has more experience with crises such as classic product recalls, serious industrial accidents, or economic issues involving site closures or job losses.
Nonetheless, simple rules also apply to pandemics and can be mapped with clever crisis prevention:
- Categorise: what does an identified virus mean for operations? In other words: who is affected by and who is involved in the crisis situation?
- Responsibility: who is responsible for communication with which target group? In other words: who communicates with employees, authorities, the media, customers, suppliers and third parties, in which way and how often?
- Monitoring: how do we immediately know who will comment on the crisis and how, and above all, which tone they will take? How do we catch false alarms? Online monitoring tools provide assistance here.
Whenever the health authorities are involved in a crisis situation triggered by a virus, a company doesn’t necessarily maintain control of its communications. For this reason, companies should run through these kinds of cases with the authorities in good time. The current coverage of the coronavirus has brought the fact that health risks for employees present their very own crisis topic to the attention of those responsible for communications. In the actual crisis situation, adjusting to this crisis scenario means having more time available for crisis communication. In the age of global goods flows and an increasingly networked economy, crises like the coronavirus or SARS will recur. For this reason, clever crisis prevention is useful in limiting potential reputational damage, giving the crisis unit the assurance it needs to be well prepared and avoiding any blunders in the actual crisis situation.
Quali strumenti di prevenzione sono disponibili nei casi di gestione delle crisi e cosa distingue una comunicazione efficiente e di successo da una deficitaria? Ecco alcune informazioni utili e concrete relative a un caso specifico per un approccio comunicativo strategico alla crisi.
Sostanze inquinanti nel fiume bavarese Jagst: gestione della crisi
Quali sono le misure da adottare in caso di crisi che portino a una comunicazione di successo capace di proteggere la reputazione della azienda?
Un incendio che ha colpito il comune di Schwäbisch Hall per una estensione di circa 17 chilometri ha prodotto un versamento di sostanze inquinanti nel fiume Jagst, proprio in uno dei bacini più ecologicamente ricchi della regione del Baden-Württemberg. Nei tre giorni successivi, il rischio è che venga interessata anche un’altra regione, ovvero il circondario dello Hohenlohe. Esponenti politici, pescatori locali, ma anche ambientalisti e popolazione residente sono estremamente preoccupata per le sorti del loro fiume. I media chiedono l’intervento della politica per evitare il verificarsi del peggio.
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