Published 20 March 2020
There's no denying that COVID-19 is dominating news headlines globally at present. With reporters trying to produce as much content as possible, what do you do if they start contacting you about a coronavirus outbreak linked to your business?
Before talking to anyone from the media, contact the local health authorities to ask about next steps. The action they advise you to take will depend on your jurisdiction and the spread of COVID-19 in your area. Be prepared that you may be asked to cease operating temporarily.
Ask the health authorities if they have any restrictions or requirements about talking to the media about the incident.
If you get the go-ahead to talk to the media, it is time to prepare. Dealing with media enquiries can be nerve-wracking. It is always a good idea to train someone from your business in media relations before an incident such as COVID-19 happens so that they feel confident in their abilities if they need to talk to reporters.
When working with the media, always be as polite and as helpful as possible. Respond quickly to requests for information even if there is little to say — many reporters expect a return call within 10 minutes of making the request. However, they will wait longer for an interview, so give yourself at least 30 minutes to think about the questions they may ask and how you should respond.
If the media think that a story is breaking, they will get information from somewhere. They will tell the story with or without your help. As a business, you need to respond quickly so that you can define and control public perception of how you are handling the crisis. By offering as much information as you can, you reduce the chance of speculation and inaccurate information being reported to the public.
Be sure to start any communications by showing genuine compassion and concern for the people involved. This shows a human side to you and your business. You may need to protect the identities of the people involved for legal reasons. If this is the case, apologize and explain why.
Be prepared when you know you need to deal with reporters. Have fact sheets prepared that stress how important employee and customer safety is to your organization and outline the steps you’ve been taking to minimize the risk from COVID-19.
It’s a good idea to have a media kit on your website. This should include information about your company, information about key personnel, and who to contact for media enquiries. Even if the media do not contact you, the media kit can help to shape the way you are portrayed to the public. It can help to present a human face to the public.
Offer reporters and the media as much information as you can. Never say ‘No comment’ to reporters. Members of the public think this means you have something to hide. If you are unsure what to say, tell them that the situation is currently being reviewed and that you’ll let them know as soon as you have all of the facts. Never speculate — just stick to the facts. And if an interviewer says something that is not factual, correct them.
Finally, never say anything “off the record”. If you don’t want something reported, then don’t discuss it.