South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has declared a national state of disaster amid the COVID-19 virus outbreak. While many areas of life are being impacted as the virus spreads, it also presents challenges for many business owners.
Businesses will likely feel the effect of COVID-19 on their bottom line, particularly when employees and clients self-isolate or, as has been seen in other countries, put under quarantine.
In a crisis situation it is even more important that you have a communications strategy in place, and that you communicate regularly with your team members, clients and stakeholders in a calm and measured brand voice.
To help your business prepare for COVID-19 and ensure the safety of your employees and clients, we recommend your business take the following steps.
Step 1: Create a crisis communication plan
If you don’t have a crisis communications plan in place – this is your first step. If you already have one, it’s important to review it with your team, to ensure that it is sufficient.
Include these items in your plan:
- Should your business have to close, identify a team of key decision makers.
- Identify the team responsible for dealing with inquiries from the media.
- A holding statement to send to media should your business be exposed to COVID-19.
- Prepare for media inquiries by including the contact information for all key stakeholders and the crisis management team.
- Any relevant contact information including the COVID-19 hotline number, the government’s WhatsApp support service and the department of health.
- All relevant – and updated – policies such as remote working, data security and client engagement.
With any crisis plan, there needs to be a clear chain of command, and it’s essential that you have a plan B, in the event that decision makers are unable to participate in the process.
With your holding statement, it’s important to be prepared early, as this will enable you to move quickly and share essential information with stakeholders if your business is directly impacted by COVID-19.
All businesses need a crisis communications plan. If you do not have one or yours needs to be updated, contact us.
Step 2: Share your plan
Now that you have a crisis communications plan in place, you need to ensure that everyone involved knows what to do when the plan is initiated.
We recommend that you consider these steps:
- Identify potential scenarios that could play out and how you would handle them.
- Cross-train selected employees so they can execute the crisis plan in the event that key team members are unavailable.
- Set short, daily meetings to briefly discuss any new developments or changes to the situation and to your communications plan.
- Clarify your media policy to ensure that you do not share incorrect information.
- Identify spokespeople for your business and inform employees, so they know who to pass any media inquiries on to.
Step 3: Set up a dedicated webpage
We have seen the situation change overnight in many countries, which is why your business needs to stay on top of the latest information.
Create a dedicated webpage where you can load relevant and reliable information, and have a banner or pop-up on your homepage that links to this webpage.
Key information to include:
- A statement from your business that acknowledges that the situation may change rapidly and that you will evaluate information regularly, and then update the page.
- Whether or not your employees or location has been exposed to the virus.
- An overview of your contingency plan.
- Any preventative steps that have been implemented.
- Links to reliable sources such as the World Health Organisation and the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
- The contact details for your primary media spokesperson and crisis management team.
Step 4: Internal communications
South Africa’s president addressed the nation on 15th March 2020. Before your employees feel uncertain or worried, it’s important that you communicate how your business plans to respond to COVID-19.
There will still be details that the business needs to iron, but it’s key that you communicate quickly and thoroughly, to allay their fears and show that you have a plan in place.
Include these points in your communication:
- Your business is aware of the COVID-19 situation.
- You have plans in place to minimise disruptions.
- Elaborate on measures being taken (such as travel restrictions).
- Reliable sources of information such as the World Health Organisation, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the SA Government.
- The dedicated contact person for any employee questions.
Step 5: External communication
Considering how COVID-19 has spread throughout the world, it’s likely that all businesses in South Africa will be affected.
We recommend that you begin communicating with your clients and external stakeholders, to reassure them that you are aware of the situation and have contingency plans in place to address the situation, should your business be directly impacted.
We recommend that you send a statement to your clients and stakeholders to inform them that you are prioritising their safety and that of your employees, that you are closely monitoring the situation and include details about the preventative measures your business has taken.
You should also include a link to your dedicated webpage, where clients and stakeholders can get the latest information about your response.