Just ten days ago, our strategy to deal with coronavirus played out in days. Then it became hours. Now, just minutes go by before new developments require a response.
The seriousness of the situation has accelerated with the pace. Travel bans, school closings, new cases and increases in morbidity and mortality are all in the news in just the last 24 hours.
As leaders in communities with a reliance on tourism, people look to for help on dealing with business slowdowns, job losses, liquidity crises, event management, communications and more. We need to provide accurate, practical information in a way provides a calm eye in the center of the coronavirus storm.
At TEI, we want to share advice from our crisis communications plans and best practices from destinations around the US. You can use these as a strategic framework frame your day-to-day messaging.
Build Trust and Credibility:
- Express empathy and caring.
- Be open and honest.
- Demonstrate competence and expertise.
- Show commitment and dedication over time.
- Anticipate as best you can.
- A crisis is always a cascade of smaller crises. If you can be ready for what’s next at least some of the time, you build trust.
- Top Tips:
- Don’t over reassure.
- Acknowledge uncertainty, acknowledge fear.
- Express wishes (“I wish I had answers”).
- Explain the process for finding answers.
- Enlist your audience. Give them things to do and ask them to step up and share risk
If you are the Spokesman:
- Stay within the scope of your expertise.
- Know your organization’s policies.
- Tell the truth. Be transparent. Situational sensitivity may sometimes require you to say, “I can’t answer that right now.” That is an honest answer.
- If you don’t know, say so.
- Embody your agency’s identity.
- Top tip:
- Stay on Message. You are not an expert on everything, so bring the questions back to your specialized information. These phrases help.
- “What’s important to remember is …”
- “I can’t answer that question, but I can tell you …”
- “Before I forget, I want to tell your viewers …”
- “Let me put that in perspective from our point of view …”
Prepare to Respond to These Questions. You may have incomplete information, or some questions might be outside your area of expertise, in which case you must say so. But be ready to field these questions. It is important for your credibility.
- Are my family and I safe?
- What can I do to protect myself and my family?
- How am I supposed to stay in business?
- What can we expect?
- Why did this happen?
- When is it going to be over?
- Why wasn’t this prevented?
- What else can go wrong?
- When did you begin working on this?
- What does this information mean?
Your Crisis Priorities:
- BE CORRECT. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself. Be certain of your information before going public. In a crisis, being wrong can be seen as being unreliable or even hysterical.
- BE USEFUL. Offer facts and practical advice that people need and can use. Be a resource – and boost your credibility.
- PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH. Be sure your organization is carrying out the recommendations you are making. In a crisis, failing to connect your words and deeds will be quickly interpreted as hypocrisy and your messaging will be discounted.
- CONSISTENT IMAGING IS VITAL. No matter what you communicate, be calm, authoritative, sure of yourself and empathetic. Smile on occasion. People gravitate to these qualities in a crisis, and it prepares the way for your messaging.
We are just scratching the surface of the crisis communications field in today’s blog. Our purpose it to offer you a checklist of strategic advice to help you build effective messaging during the present crisis. As the world deals with this unprecedented event, TEI will be ready with practical tips for handling the many constituencies in the DMO universe – and carving out a leadership role to help your community now, and in the future.