PRSA Resources for Communicating in a Time of COVID-19

The Public Relations Society of America has compiled a list of resources for both members and non-members. While many of these resources are specific to communications surrounding the novel coronavirus, many key takeaways can be applied to other areas of crisis communications.

Managing Communications Fatigue When There’s Only One Thing to Talk About

Below, you’ll find the key points from an article by Joshua J. Smith, M.S., a full-time faculty member of mass communications and public relations with the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. He recently posted an article on PRSay about avoiding communication fatigue during these times–something we’re all probably on our way to dealing with as the pandemic worsens:

Consider the frequency.

Before sending another email about the coronavirus and its effects on our businesses, we should first consider how many times we have already emailed the same people on the same topic — and how often they have responded. To avoid communication fatigue, multiple updates should be consolidated into a single email whenever possible.

It might be better to send a text message if someone can answer a question with a simple “yes” or “no.” If you have several questions, then combine them into a single email.

Add value to your message.

We also need to think about the value of what we intend to communicate. If an email doesn’t provide anything new or timely, perhaps you should not send it.

On the surface, a lot of what Smith says in the article seems like a no-brainer. Even the most seasoned communications professional can get caught up in the heat of the moment, though.

Another useful article, also found on PRSay, houses some useful nuggets that are more directly related with crisis communications than communications fatigue, but let’s take a look at an excerpt from that one:

Add signal, not noise.

It’s tempting to want to make sure that customers and other stakeholders know you’re thinking about them during a crisis. Before adding to the noise, ask these three important questions:
Is it necessary? Are we communicating information that people need right now to keep themselves and those around them safe, or just taking up precious mental bandwidth and possibly obscuring more critical messages?
Is it helpful? Are we sharing insights or resources that address a genuine need or concern and are not already widely available, or just jumping on the bandwagon in an effort to stay top-of-mind and not feel left out.
Is it targeted to the right audience? Times like these call for laser targeting, not mass marketing. Determine who needs to receive what information and then parse your lists accordingly. You’ll be doing them — and your stakeholders — a tremendous service.

Jon Goldberg, the founder of Reputation Architects Inc., member of the executive committee and 2021 chair-elect of PRSA’s Counselors Academy and director-at-large of PRSA’s New Jersey Chapter, really hit the nail on the head with that one.

There is a lot of noise out there right now. As communications professionals, it is our responsibility to combat that. When we put out messages, are those messages in line with our crisis plans? Do we even have crisis plans? The latter question is the more important one.

Crisis communication is a field that is sorely engaged, but desperately needed. We hold our breaths waiting for the day our crisis plans are needed, but we write them anyways, because as everyone knows (and everyone is currently seeing real-world examples for), it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have. 

At least when it comes to crisis communication.