Communicators Jump into Action: COVID-19 and Crisis Communications.

The future is changing in ways no one anticipated and so has the role of every organization’s communications team. COVID-19 is keeping communicators on their toes, from being in the background to being the only source of updated information in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. While the economy has taken a hit and unemployment has risen, the communications industry has an added responsibility to echo information accurately and timely. People of all age groups are following the news closely in order to keep themselves and their families safe. In the advent of the current circumstances, PRSA Chicago organized a webinar: “Leading Through Crisis and Establishing a New Normal for Communicators After the Apex”.

The innate role of the communications team is to share factual information with internal and external audiences. According to a Toluna and Harris Interactive report, to be confident and productive, American workers say they need regular communication during this crisis. Our panelists unanimously concluded with the onset of a pandemic: open, transparent, and frequent information should be continuously dispersed to stakeholders in order to reassure and comfort them.

Rodrigo A. Sierra, CCO and senior VP, American Medical Association said, “Our (team’s) stature has risen ten folds (after the pandemic struck). People look at our team very differently now and they value the communicators' role and what it brings to an organization.” Currently, the communications team is under a lot of pressure from all sides. They are the epicenter of all transitioning information. This is the opportunity for them to strengthen existing media relations and forge new ones. Collaborating with teams within the organization and collating time-sensitive information before it’s public is a lot of responsibility.

Spread of misinformation is easy in a situation like the crisis we are currently in. Companies have to make sure they fact check and follow CDC guidelines, stated Heather Woodard, APR, multicultural PR and engagement communications lead for McDonald's U.S.A. During these grim days, brands can’t market themselves like they used to, but they can still make a difference by keeping their stakeholders updated via webcasts, emails, and a webpage dedicated to COVID-19 updates on their websites.

Many communications teams are working out of a virtual war room, and this will be the norm for some time. Jim Cohn, senior director, External Relations, Walgreens thinks of this as a gift, bringing a lot of learning and team-building experiences. His team has been working through a lot of layers: government relations, legal, and operations to communicate quickly and clearly. He hopes that post-COVID, things will get back to normal but affirms that normal has changed for all of us.

PRSA Chicago Members can watch the full conversation on the Members Section. Non-members can access the webinar via this link.


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