Without a doubt, the coronavirus pandemic is one of the strangest crises in our lifetimes, moving from “wash your hands more often” to “don’t leave your house for weeks” in just a few hours on Friday, March 13, 2020. Other than 9/11, I can’t personally remember a time when the entire country ground to a halt, closing restaurants, canceling sporting events, and even shuttering courts. Not only does this have wide-reaching ramifications for businesses, it also has the power to shift the fabric of who we are as a community.

Right now, stakeholders are looking to leaders within their organizations and public relations professionals for communications leadership, and guidance on how this impacts their work and at home life. It is important for stakeholders to see leadership portraying confidence and communicating facts regularly about this crisis. Doing this well will build trust. Doing this poorly will erode it.

Below are a few tips for communicating to stakeholders as well as a stakeholder checklist.

  • Communicate clearly and consistently. When stakeholders are concerned or anxious, they will look to leadership to offer clear guidance on how this situation impacts them. Remember that it’s ok to acknowledge what you don’t know, but it’s important to be transparent, clear, and honest in all conversations. The level of impact in this situation requires more than a simple memo to employees. It demands regular and consistent communication – that might mean daily or every couple of days as the scenarios and facts radically change.
  • Find new ways to communicate. For some companies, working as a remote team may be an old hat, but for many organizations this is a head-first dive into communicating with stakeholders when working from home. Leaders must find new ways to communicate with stakeholders to keep them informed and engaged, such as company-wide virtual townhalls or virtual happy hours.
  • Listen as much as you talk. The test of true leadership is whether you can accept feedback or commentary. If there is no mechanism in place from which to receive feedback from your stakeholders, you are missing half of the conversation. Ask stakeholders for ideas and for what they need from you in terms of information and resources.
  • Focus on facts. Right now, there’s a lot we don’t know about coronavirus and its impact on our daily lives and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Focus your communication on what you know and, again, admit what you don’t. Use credible sources, such as the CDC, and offer best practices.
  • Communicate inclusively. Not only is it important to communicate clearly, but to understand your audience. Are you communicating in a way that they understand? At the most basic level, are you communicating in their language and culture? It’s important to recognize cultural differences, particularly for multi-lingual and global companies.

Stakeholder Audience Checklist
Some companies think they have it covered when it comes to communications around coronavirus as soon as they hit send on the email to every customer who has ever visited their website. The truth is that companies, now more than ever, have more stakeholders than they think. Below are a few stakeholders to consider when communicating in a crisis situation. Not every audience will apply to your company, but it’s a checklist for organizations to review.

  • Customers
  • Employees/Managers
  • Investors/Donors
  • Other Executives
  • Vendors
  • Elected Officials
  • Neighbors
  • Business Leaders
  • Trade Associations
  • Community Members/Leaders
  • Chambers of Commerce
  • Local, Regional, and National Media
  • Local, Regional, and National Interest Groups
  • Local, Regional, and National NGOs