As PR pros face an increasing number of communications challenges amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, some will encounter the daunting task of notifying customers, employees and others about the possibility that they have been exposed to the virus.
There are tried and true ways to communicate in times of uncertainty and stress for the people receiving this kind of news.
- Notify people as soon as possible. Given that this virus is spreading quickly from people who may not know they are a carrier, helping others understand exposure could help the state of public health.
- Be clear and concise. With issues-based information, you want to use clear language and keep it short. Maintain focus on facts and the reason you are communicating them to reader.
- Get to the point quickly. A lot of the time we have a desire to soften the blow of bad news with pleasantries. When people do this, it can be perceived as tone deaf or disconnected from reality.
- Provide facts, not speculation. The types of facts that are of greatest interest are dates and times when people may have been in contact with the affected person. If you received an official notification from a health department, provide a link to the online posting. Don’t share feelings or assumptions.
- Offer a path forward, as well as resources. Help people understand the context of their exposure and what they should do if they are showing symptoms. Provide a trusted resource to obtain additional information.
Here’s an edited version of an email I received (with identifying information removed) as an example:
We want to share with you that [our geographic area/industry/etc] has reported its first COVID-19 case. In a [health department notice link] that posted [yesterday's date], it noted that the individual was at [location conference was held during the [conference name and dates]. They have not released the patient's name or what their role may have been.
Please note we are [number of days] past the conference. However, contact your health care provider if you suffer from the symptoms of COVID-19: fever, cough and shortness of breath.
For more information on COVID-19, please consult the [state health department page on COVID link].
I appreciated the message, and even thanked the sender. This group understands its audience, trusts it and reinforced that trust with a well-done message.
Janice Person is founder/CEO of JPlovesCOTTON LLC