Swine Flu – those should be the first words out of your mouth when you get to the office today. The fact that there is a new global pandemic threat could be the best thing to happen to your communications and public relations department all year. Why? Because corporate leaders will be willing to spend money on things that you’ve been wanting to day anyway, such as write a new Crisis Communications Plan or update your current plan. You can also get money in the budget for media training, presentation training and more.
Why will they be willing to spend money? It’s because corporate risk managers, who get the ear of executives more often than communicators, know that a global pandemic could trigger their risk management plan, which generally has lots of contingencies built in for pandemics. The reason there is a big contingency plan built around this is because a mass number of sick workers will affect corporate profits, and nothing gets the attention of corporate leaders more than something that can affect corporate profits.
Twice this decade risk managers were able to get leaders to free up funds for potentially serious events that could affect corporate profits. First, the Y-2-K computer fears lead to massive sums of money being spent on precautionary projects. That was followed a few years later by the SARS Virus.
So what should you do? Walk up to the executive suite and be the leader of your organization’s efforts to communicate with employees, the media and other key audiences should there be a Swine Flu outbreak that affects your business. The media may want to interview corporate leaders just on the topic of what precautions they are taking. And when you bring up the topic to corporate leaders, they’ll ask what needs to be done and how much will it cost. Be ready with an answer and be ready to ask for more money than you need. Why? Well, if you ask for $50,000, in tight economic times they’ll ask if you can do it for $25,000. You can settle for $35,000 and begin working on your projects.
The Swine Flu is a classic smoldering crisis, for which a properly written Crisis Communications Plan is needed. Once the Crisis Communication Plan is written, it should be followed up with Media Training, then a Crisis Communications Drill.
Here are 10 steps you should take today:
1) Create a combination internal & external communications strategy. Remember that what you say to one audience you must say to all. What you say to employees is never confidential; it gets forwarded to the media.
2) Be ready to communication workplace and social precautions.
3) Be ready to communicate true risks so as to minimize hysteria.
4) Provide perspective. The maps on the news show states where a few cases have been confirmed, but the map looks rather frightening, even though only 2-3 cases have been reported in some of the states.
5) Do a vulnerability assessment. This is the first step in creating a crisis communications plan or crisis communications strategy. Know where the crisis may occur and how.
6) Don’t try to wing it the day you need to communicate. A crisis is no time to write a crisis communications plan. Write or revise it on a clear sunny day.
7) A writing retreat is a great way to get a lot of work done in just a few days. That’s the technique that I use in my 2-day program to write a crisis communications plan. Get everyone who needs to be part of the writing team together at one time. Get them out of the office in a retreat setting to write without interruption. Leave the e-mail, phones and Black Berry devices behind.
8) After the communications is written, determine the ways you’ll communicate. Get all the tools lined up. Web 1.0 tools are still some of the best tools.
9) Hold media training for the executive team. Don’t let them wing these messages. There could be touch questions that follow.
10) Hold a crisis communications drill to test your strategy. The time to screw up is in private. You don’t want to screw up the day of the crisis.
Remember, powerful communications before a crisis and rapid communications during a crisis can save lives.
Here are 2 resources to help you prepare. This link takes you to a special podcast on the subject
Secondly, I’m inviting you to join me for a special teleseminar in just 2 weeks on May 12 at 11 a.m. Central Daylight Time. The teleseminar will be called Swine Flu, Public Relations and You. In it we’ll spend an hour in greater detail talking about the tools you need to be prepared to communicate for what is going to be a hot topic.