By David Eisenstadt and Carol Merry

The rapidly spreading coronavirus requires that companies the world over quickly prepare communications strategies for their various stakeholder audiences, with a focus on employees.

Start from the inside:

In uncertain times, employees will look for timely information on how your organization expects to be affected and how it will manage through the crisis. Co-ordinated, consistent and appropriately frequent communication will be appreciated. Employees are the conduit to other concerned audiences such as customers, investors, local communities and others.

Use discrete communications:

It is advisable to stick to the coronavirus topic and refrain from incorporating too much corporate strategy and goals into the communication. Empathy and humanity are top of mind for employees. Don’t induce panic but express how seriously your organization takes this global threat. Continue regular business communication but keep it separate from instructions on the crisis situation.

Leverage credible sources:

The World Health Organization and the Canadian government are continually providing information on the status of the spread of the coronavirus as well as information on protecting yourself and identifying symptoms. In addition, these organizations provide Q&A and myth-dispelling information. Provide information to answer specific questions and refer to these sites where employees and others can educate themselves.

Revisit your business continuity plan:

As your IT, HR and facilities management teams are reviewing contingency plans, they will probably need help to communicate appropriately. It is important that the communications teams understand the processes that will be employed if the business needs to close because of sickness, if it cannot obtain materials from suppliers or other disruptions. Keep communications consistent and from consistent trusted sources.

Develop a pandemic scenario for your crisis communications plan:

Review your crisis communications plan to be sure you have a scenario that applies to the coronavirus. Many crisis plans separate physical plant accessibility and reputation scenarios; today’s challenge can affect both. Double-check the alignment between crisis communication and business continuity plans. It is always best practice to stage a crisis simulation exercise on a regular basis. A tabletop exercise specifically devoted to the threats associated with the coronavirus should be planned sooner rather than later.

Carol Merry is senior vice-president at Fahlgren Mortine in Columbus, Ohio.  Fahlgren Mortine and tcgpr in Toronto are two of 68 partner firms in IPREX – The Global Communication Platform. Visit


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