We are living through history, and it has just started to sink in for many of us. After years of being a CDC-certified crisis and emergency risk communicator and running table-top pandemic scenarios for local public health officials, hospital staffs, and first responders, I wish we were more prepared. Our worst-case scenario planning fell short compared to this reality, but it was a start. The Covid-19 pandemic will change so many things for so many. Yet there are a few things we can and must do, and ways where communication can help us.
There is a saying in risk communications "You don't rise to the level of the situation, you sink to the level of your training." This is my effort to share what I know to help build your skills. Use what seems useful to you.
Kelly Ferrara, President
P.S. Be warned: There is a lot of text below. Once I started, I just kept going.
Stand Down, Up, or Out?
1. It isn't business as usual. Brands need to critically assess if it is their time to stand down, up, or out. What I mean is this:
Stand down your typical social media posts and share what is useful and usable for those you serve. The same goes for advertising, PR, and marketing efforts.
Stand up if you need help. Are you a nonprofit and supplies are low? Share that. Are you a small business and concerned? Tell us. There is a great Facebook page for St. Louis businesses for this exact purpose - #314Together. I'm sure there are others globally doing the same work.
Stand out by being human and centering on overall values. Many of you are not working. Many of you are at home. Let your personal brand shine through. Model good social distancing norms. Be kind to others. Breathe.
The phrase "lived experience" is taking on new meanings for each of us under the fog of a pandemic. No one needs to know all the particular stresses of everyone else. But everyone needs to know that no one is immune to stress right now. Be gracious. Be as straightforward as possible with your team. Speak your truth and where possible, allow them to speak theirs. Start with the open-hearted and open-minded point of view that we are each trying to do our best. And demonstrate grace when you come across someone for whom it is all just too much.
Fear and uncertainty will be with us for a while. Yet love, and grace, and compassion are always with us. Show yours.
The Psychology of Crisis
In teaching risk communication, there is an entire chapter on the psychology of a crisis. It was always my favorite chapter to teach. It is foundational to all the other pieces, and when explored thoroughly by a class, it sets the tone for how they perform in the table-top exercises that follow. Here is what we know to be true.
First messages carry more weight. Once an idea has a foothold in the public mind, it is hard to replace that first message. So speak the truth, frequently, plainly, and when things change, explain why.
Clear communication is a resource multiplier. One spokesperson and one article and one newscast and one blog post can't sufficiently communicate during a crisis. Things are moving swiftly, changing rapidly, and we can all help. Share content with your family, friends, and networks that is relevant and timely, as well as from a reliable source. My go-to resources for the Covid-19 pandemic are the free daily New York Times newsletter, (You can find it here) and the posts from my local paper STLToday.com.
Information Reduces Anxiety. When people can name a problem, they can solve a problem. And while I can't explain the run on toilet paper, I can tell you that sharing credible and actionable information with your circles of influence can yield positive results in reducing anxiety and stress. During a crisis, statistics will lag and anecdotes will rule. Be smart and understand the difference.
Time and Space Matter. The best graphic I've seen on this entire event was in the Washington Post. You can find it here. It defines social distancing and demonstrates the impact it can have. There simply is not a person among us who shouldn't be minimizing their entire sphere of human interaction. And yes, the coronavirus may not be in your neighborhood, town, or county, but it is in your state and nature abhors a vacuum. This virus needs a vacuum. A space with no human-to-human contact where it can no longer spread. Click the link above. Trust me.
Spheres of Influence
We all have people we are influenced by, and in most cases we have people we influence. Use your powers for good. Share the links that are meaningful to you. Take a walk. Take a breath.
What to do?
You must practice social distancing. It is new to us, and unusual. Our kids hate it. And we hate it. Yet it is time for all of us to be in this together -- just at six-foot intervals.
You should support your local businesses and donate to your local nonprofit organizations. So many of us live paycheck to paycheck. And for too many of us, those aren't coming anymore. So many organizations have fundraisers that fill their coffers for the year that have been canceled.
You can also check in on those around you who may have needs you can help meet.
If you've read to this point, thank you. I hope in a small way it can help you, and help others. Be well.
DON'T Visit us until the crisis is over! Our office address is:
333 S Kirkwood Rd.
Kirkwood, MO 63122