Every senior living community needs to be thinking about two things today: how do we communicate what is going on inside our community while every day brings new news and changes about COVID-19; and are we prepared if we learn that someone in our community has contracted COVID-19.
The basics of effective crisis communications are not difficult, but they require advance work to reduce the risk of damage to your organization. Therefore, it’s essential that your organization have a crisis response plan in place. With a crisis response plan, senior living communities have the tools to dampen a potential crisis before it even makes it to your doorstep. Below, please find some helpful steps to get started now:
Make a plan and build your team
Imagine the potential crisis and brainstorm possible responses and best and worst-case scenarios; then create a crisis response plan based on your organization’s specific vulnerabilities. Another smart move before a crisis hits is adapting your marketing strategy to the current situation so you can continue reaching out to leads. You should also take this time to identify your crisis communications team, which should be a small group of senior executives in your organization who will develop and run your communications strategy. Ideally, the CEO should lead the team, with public relations executive and legal counsel serving as advisors. But the plan should include some obvious basics, like what the folks at the front desk are supposed to say and do, and gathering all the contact information for key team members.
Know who will speak
The next step is to identify who will speak on behalf of your organization. This person should possess the proper skills to accomplish your communication goals. Then, delegate who will handle your different channels of communications. In most situations, the director of the organization should be the lead spokesperson. For training, consider offering professional training from an expert or outside agency, which should include strategies to prevent stakeholders from misunderstanding or misinterpreting information.
Set up notification and monitoring systems
Make sure to check that your phone and email databases are current so you can immediately begin communicating once your message is set. Then, to keep abreast of what is being said about your organization, consider signing up for Google Alerts to monitor traditional media or signing up for a free social media app like Hootsuite to monitor social media. It’s also important to have actual ears on the ground, so recruit your frontline personnel to monitor what is being said by employees, customers and other stakeholders. That way, you can adapt your strategy and tactics to address the current conversation.
Identify your “publics”
Senior living community have many “publics,” or stakeholders, including your residents, their families, your employees and the community/press, so you need to develop targeted strategies to keep them in the loop. Each type of stakeholder may require different messaging or methods of contact. Remember, every employee is a PR representative and crisis manager for your organization, whether you want them to be or not, so make sure to keep your staff informed and provide training so they are more likely to stick to the right message.
Craft your initial message
The final pre-crisis step is to develop “holding statements,” which are messages prepared in advance for different scenarios that can be adjusted immediately if a crisis hits. It’s important for your crisis communications team to develop these early on in anticipation of scenarios in which your organization might be vulnerable.
Without a crisis response plan, senior living communities are putting themselves at a disadvantage. Whether it’s due to a lack of foresight or a paralysis due to fear, keeping your constituents in the dark is the worst thing you can do.
To stay on the right side of your stakeholders and the media and to head off escalation, it’s important for your organization to demonstrate strong and steady leadership backed up by the four Cs:
- Be Clear
- Be Consistent
- Communicate the plan forward
- Show Compassion
With steady leadership at the helm and a thorough crisis response plan, you’ll know that your bases are covered in a worst-case scenario. And whatever happens with today’s challenge, you’ll have the confidence to handle the next crisis that comes your way.
In addition to PR and marketing strategy, Pivot Communication offers crisis response planning and communications services. If your senior living community needs help developing a plan, training spokespeople or writing statements, call Pivot at (303) 499-9291 or contact us.