For all of you out there struggling to answer questions about the COVID-19 pandemic, we put together a Q&A style post that will hopefully help you make sense of our current situation. Read more from our Senior Vice President, Conor Yunits.


Q: What do April showers bring?

A: Abject misery and nostalgia for the Before Times.

Q: Was that necessary?

A: I am committed to honesty and transparency.


Everyone has questions. Our job as communicators is to provide responses. It’s probably safe to say that nobody currently working in the information business has ever faced this level of demand for answers, nor been so hard-pressed to provide them.

In our work for government, non-profit, health care, beer, banking, cannabis, energy, real estate and other clients since the COVID-19 crisis began, we at SM&C have worked with our teams to craft messages that would have felt ridiculous three months ago. Every day brings something different and can result in a scramble to tell clients, staff, customers, tenants, patients, residents or funders how new restrictions or rules or regulations might impact them.


Q: So how do we effectively communicate what this all means to all our audiences?

A: As you may have guessed, I am a big fan of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) format, especially in times of crisis. Thinking through a wide variety of likely or even remotely possible questions puts you in the shoes of your audiences and prepares you for inquiries that might not be addressed by your regular email updates or media statements.

Q: Can you elaborate?

A: It would be my pleasure. As this public health emergency drags on, FAQs can be especially helpful when new government regulations are announced that impact your customers/tenants/staff, etc.

Thinking through the six basic questions is a great place to start. For example:

      • What is today’s new rule?
      • Why are they taking this step?
      • When does it take effect?
      • Who does it impact?
      • How does it impact me?
      • Where can I get more information?

Q: Give me an example.

A: I’m getting to it.

Q: Are your blog posts always this long?

A:


Pretty much every day for the past 2-3 weeks, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has hosted a live press conference and updated everyone on the coronavirus situation and what the Commonwealth is doing.

As it turns out, NOT everyone in Massachusetts is watching the Governor’s press conference live. As a result, people are getting a LOT of information on COVID-19 second or third hand. While local media is (in my unbiased opinion as a media relations specialist) doing a PHENOMENAL job of relaying this information to the public, they are responsible for sharing with a very broad audience.

As communicators for your company, agency, organization, etc., being able to translate new information into a quick FAQ for your audiences can highlight your efforts to provide them with clear, specific, and useful information.

Here’s a hypothetical example:

Q: What did the Governor announce today and why?

A: The Governor announced that pond swimming will be prohibited in the Commonwealth until May 4, because public Health officials believe that swimming in ponds can spread COVID-19.

(Q: This feels oddly specific.

A: I may be staring at a pond.)

Q: How does this ruling impact me?

A: Given our company’s focus on selling supplies primarily for pond swimming, this ruling will significantly impact our business.

Q: Where can I get more information?

A: You can find more information on the Governor’s order here.


Of course, that’s the easy stuff. As I noted earlier, you should also think about harder, more specific questions, like:

  • Is it possible this prohibition will extend into the summer?
  • Has the pond-swimming industry been working with DPH and the Governor to develop regulations for safe pond-swimming?
  • Will this prohibition result in layoffs at our company?

Even if you don’t post these more difficult questions and answers to your website or email it to staff/clients/customers, etc., this exercise can help you think through difficult questions and make sure you are prepared for different scenarios.

At this point in the COVID-19 crisis, the only thing we know for sure is that we don’t really know what tomorrow will bring, let alone next week or next month. Every audience will keep hunting for more information, and the more answers you can provide them, the more they will value you now and in the future.