Communication Is Key

Dealing with COVID-19


These are anxious times. We’ve been bombarded by messages, data, scenarios, facts and fictions about COVID-19, a pandemic that doctors and experts have never seen before. 

People want to know that their government/management/ownership care about them and their overall health and well-being.  

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And the people valiantly trying to keep it all together and make sense out of the senseless are countless communication directors. These past few days they have been doing the job they were trained to do and oh, so much more. 

According to Cynthia M. Frisby, Ph.D.Professor, Strategic Communication Missouri School of Journalism, people crave information and updates.

“Even if it’s information about receiving information,” she says. “Let people know that you will be staying in touch.  Do NOT STAY SILENT! Whatever you do, do not go long lengths of time without communicating to your audience.”  

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She suggests providing an honest statement about how you are prioritizing employee safety and  monitoring the situation. Making sure to address specifics about the preventative measures that are underway within the organization. 

“For us the hardest part about getting a message out is that it keeps evolving,” says Sandra Lindquist, New Orleans Chamber executive vice president and COO.

The Chamber made the decision to work remotely last Friday but the true test will be today and the weeks coming. They are continuing to discuss their communication strategies.    

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“I believe our goal will be to find relevant information on the virus to share with our members and resources that our members can use to help their own businesses (SBA loans, resources, etc.),” she says.  

Eve Peyton, Communication and Marketing coordinator for Ben Franklin High School, like many communication directors, worked through the weekend to get information to students, staff, parents, and alumni. She even used TraduccioNOLA to get the messages translated into Spanish and Vietnamese.

“The hardest part is there is still uncertainty,” she says. “People want to know about prom and graduation and we are trying to get all the information they need but we want the information to be accurate. So that means many times, we have to say. ‘We just don’t know yet.’”

Kingsley House is a nonprofit organization, whose service delivery model includes Early Head Start, Head Start, Parents as Educators home-based services, Educare New Orleans, Adult Day Care and our Community and Supportive Services programming needs to reach thousands of people. 

“It is important to have multiple communication platforms, including social media, client/participant portals, remind/instant messaging apps, emails and websites,” suggests Valerie Wheatley, chief operating officer of Kingsley House  “If your clients/participants are diverse, then your communications must also be diverse and expeditious.”

 Frisby suggests that now is also the time to address the following things:

  • Be especially careful not to sound over-reassuring or overconfident—one of three most common crisis risk communication mistakes including outright dishonest, misrepresent facts based on one’s feelings or own perceptions.
  • Examine sick-leave policies.  Family-leave policies, too, should be looked at because many employees self-quarantine, especially if they have small children or elderly relatives to care for.
  • Remind people that COVID-19 is a very fluid situation with information and updates changing rapidly.  Information given out now may be preliminary and subject to change. Even the advice from the CDC and WHO can change, as they continue to work with hospital data and the facts on-hand.

“We would also like to move into the next stages of the virus situation,” says Lindquist. “How do we still meet the Chamber’s mission of networking, education and advocacy without events and meetings. We hope to utilize many of the virtual meeting platforms that are available these days.”

Though these times are stressful and full of angst, Peyton sees a few bright moments.

“I’ve noticed that we are seeing an increase in community,” she says. “People are pulling together and saying to one another,  ‘We will get through this.’” 




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