PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Covid-19 has taken previous notions of "crisis response" to a whole new level.
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This article was first drafted in late July 2020, a little more than six months after the United States first heard of Covid-19, but several months after its first "lock-downs" and self-quarantines. And, the then-current U.S. Covid death toll was nearing 150,000, with no one knowing whether the worst was over or yet to come.

Prior to this time, I had chosen not to discuss Covid-19 on this website because I am not a public health expert and had not faced a pandemic. And, since I make no claim to such expertise, I had no reason to think anyone would come to this site looking for Covid-related advice. I was also aware that numerous government and professional organizations involved in these fields have extensive websites and I thought it best to leave advice-giving to them. I still think the how-to advice should come from such experts, but I now think it's appropriate for me to urge every public relations practitioner to seek and use such advice.

 
Initially, few people had any notion of the impact Covid-19 would have.

It was reported as just another, routine new disease. New, yes; but we're used to hearing about new strains of the flu. That happens almost every year, and no one makes a big deal of it. In fact, lots of people, including the President of the United States persisted in saying that Covid-19 was just another harmless strain of flu long after it been proven otherwise.

Consequently, it was initially possible and appropriate for people and organizations who weren't involved in healthcare -- and for others who didn't host any kinds of public gatherings -- to ignore, or at least not speak openly about, Covid-19, There was little or no pressure on them to announce what their response to Covid was or what they were doing to protect their customers, clients, and employees.

But, that was before we realized Covid-19 isn't just "another new strain of the flu" and that we are facing a worldwide pandemic.

 
Now, we've all seen the power and the terror of Covid-19.

At this point (Sept. 5, 2020), it has been responsible for over 188,000 deaths in the United States and more than 875,000 deaths worldwide. It has put tens of millions of people out of work, drastically reducing or completely cutting off the income they need to sustain their lives, and it threatens the life of virtually everyone on the planet. Governments everywhere are struggling to contain the spread of the disease, to treat those who have become infected, and to find vaccines and other means of ameliorating the situation as quickly and as permanently as possible.

In the course of all of that, the public is being confused by a hodge-podge of governmental mandates, public health advisories, and well-meaning expert opinions, which often contradict one another and do little other than stir up anxiety. And, regrettably, we're all being bombarded with constant angry shouting, outrageous and dangerous recommendations, and wild blatherings about Covid conspiracies by idiots on social media.

 
One consequence is that it's no longer possible for anyone who deals with the public to ignore Covid-19.

It has become such a dominant presence in our consciousness that failing to address it when dealing with the public is immediately recognized and held against you. You may be perceived as stupid, uncaring, or deceitful if you're not "completely up front" with the public and immediately tell people with whom you or your organization are about to interact:

Don't make them ask for this information. And, don't make them hunt for it. It needs to be readily apparent and immediately available. -- That means some combination of signs in your front window and on your door, banners on your website, handouts at your check-out counter and/or information booth, and optional messages on your phone system. -- And, all of these messages need to be simple and crystal clear. -- No jargon. No hype. No false promises. And, no beating about the bush.

I won't go into more detail about how to convey such information. That's for you to decide based on your knowledge and current relationships with your various publics. I am still no more of an expert on dealing with public health pandemics than I was a few months ago, and I still prefer that you get advice from real experts.

One excellent source of such expertise is: IABC's Covid-19 Resources hosted by the International Association of Business Communicators. It offers specific insight and details on the evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic and how various organizations have responded to it as well as discussing successful public relations responses to other public health crises. Among the articles, I particularly recommend are:

 
Good luck to all of us in getting safely through this pandemic.
 


Overview of crisis communication
Crisis portal page
Stay well-informed to be ready
when a crisis hits
Performing public relations in a crisis

5 Sept. 2020