Yes& General , Announcement

Coronavirus Crisis Comms 101

Mike Smith

If the coronavirus has taught communicators one thing, it’s that crisis contingency planning is vital to any organization.

Many companies are scrambling now to fill in the gaps on supply-chain threats, protect employees and assets, determine HR plans and telework policies, and cover positions when employees can’t work.

Our experience is that mid-tier organizations rarely have a crisis communications contingency plan or crisis activation programs in place. Much like the perceived invincibility of our youth, small- and medium-sized businesses think,“This won’t happen to us!”  The coronavirus lesson so far, —and there will be many lessons learned— is that many in business and industry were caught unaware and are running hard to play catch-up.

Here are some tips to help our clients and friends:

  • Tell the truth, from the beginning. It’s always best to be out front on a crisis issue. Having a contingency plan and activation strategy will help you move quickly to respond to clients and the press.
  • Ensure all stakeholders are activated. Board members, shareholders, employees, media, and customers all need to understand where your organization stands during the pandemic. The airlines have done a great job communicating their response, but the cruise line industry … not so much.
  • Create decision trees for responsiveness. Who is going to handle key executive and PR functions? It’s important to triage media or stakeholder requests and have responses ready.
  • Provide the CEO with messaging. What do we want to communicate to our stakeholders? How can we show our empathy to those who may be sickened by COVID-19?
  • Look for opportunities to be helpful. One of our clients is providing online education services and “stay at home” educational courses to allow students to continue their education. Is there a service your organization can provide?
  • Offer amazing customer service and support. How will your organization respond to the needs of clients and customers during this outbreak? Will you offer rebates or credit billing toward future services?


About the Author: 

Mike Smith is senior vice president of PR for Yes&. He has decades of experience in crisis communications, including media relations at the Pentagon on 9/11 and recovery work with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He also worked with the American Red Cross on the crisis communications rapid response team during hurricanes and other natural disasters. Mike taught crisis communications at the Reed College of Media graduate school at West Virginia University. He has helped companies like Dow Chemical and General Dynamics navigate threats to reputation and handle crisis comms with CBS News’ 60 Minutes and ABC News’ “Fleecing of America.”

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

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Mike Smith
Mike Smith
SVP, Public Relations