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4 Steps to an Effective COVID-19 Crisis Communications Plan

March 27, 2020

4 Steps to an Effective COVID-19 Crisis Communications Plan

WASHINGTON — Leaders around the world are scrambling to develop and deploy COVID-19 responses that minimize impacts to both their employees and their customers. Communications teams have switched gears and entered crisis communications operations to support these critical response efforts.

Activating full-time crisis action teams is part of the crisis communications response. Prior to this activation, planners dust off crisis response plans and tailor them to the appropriate crisis. In the case of COVID-19, planners are looking closely at “response, isolation, quarantine, restriction of movement and community-based intervention” of any potential pandemic.

For a communicator, now is the time to update crisis communications plans to reflect the COVID-19 response. It’s particularly important to plan a communications strategy catered to an organization’s internal audience. Crisis situations tend to rapidly evolve, with information changing by the minute. With the 24 hour news cycle, staying ahead of breaking news and decisions that will impact employees is vital.

Step 1: Define the Crisis Communications Mission

In a crisis situation, it is important to clearly define the crisis communications mission during the crisis response to ensure consistent messaging and speaking with one voice. You can look at your current communications mission statement, keep it or update it to reflect the specific COVID-19 communications mission.

Step 2: Identify Key Audiences

Preparing leadership to engage audiences is an integral part of being proactive during a crisis. In order to accomplish proactively communicating during a crisis, it is critical to communicate internally through many different types of platforms to include social media, blog posts, website articles, emails and video/phone conferencing.

It is also important to define audiences relevant to the crisis communications response. Although we’ve seen employers work hard to keep their workforce informed, disinformation and confusion can occur. Employees (and wider stakeholders) will be looking for reassurance from your organization that they are being protected and that the business is prepared. Leadership should be seen as a source of truth — and according to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer (pdf), business is more trusted than both government and the media, according to Strategy and Business.

Step 3: Establish Communication Roles & Develop a Role Roster

After defining the audience, the next step in crisis communications planning is to define various roles of communications within the organization. Some roles include being the companies’ spokesperson or media relations point of contact. Depending on the size of the communications team, many will take on more than just one role. After roles are assigned, it is then important to generate a roster clearly defining who is responsible for what task.

Step 4: Communicate your Crisis Response Plan

The final step in crisis communication planning is to send out an approved plan to the communications team. This will aid in the messaging process to ultimately achieve the communications goal of communicating with one voice and messaging consistently.

The Washington Business Dynamics (WBD) COVID-19 response thus far has focused on ensuring the health and safety of employees by following best practices and guidance outlined by National Federation of Independent Business as well as the CDC. Additionally, WBD has explored new methods of engaging remote employees and building a sense of team, despite geographic distance.

Fostering a culture of online support, WBD leadership thinks outside the box by arranging virtual gatherings to enhance morale and interaction. Early into the COVID-19 response, WBD quickly acted and directed 100 percent telework. Through effective crisis communications planning, communications to employees are consistent and accurate, designed to reassure employees from the top down that WBD is committed to ensuring the safety of its workforce.

Please visit our service page to learn more about the Washington Business Dynamics Strategic Communications practice.


Washington Business Dynamics (WBD) is a veteran-owned management consulting firm specializing in acquisition, strategic advisory, and international development. We work with our clients as partners to achieve institutional change, enhance operational performance and build sustainable processes that deliver exceptional results. From our headquarters in Washington D.C. to cities around the world, our experienced team delivers strategic insights by understanding where our clients want to go, and the best way to get there. Our mission is simple: help our clients make better decisions.

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