Communication In Times of Crisis

Heidi Otway, APR, CPRC, President + Partner

Communication to the public as a pandemic unfolds is a huge challenge. Information and understanding of the virus continues to evolve, which can mean confusion and misinterpretation of public health and government messaging. 

As we have seen with COVID-19, we interpret and judge our own actions and those of others using a unique calculus of our perception of risk. As Florida eases restrictions and businesses begin to operate, it is clear that our minds are not equipped for this kind of reopening, and individuals face a psychological morass. 

Recently, The Atlantic published an interesting article that explores the challenge of risk and crisis communications in light of the high stakes in this pandemic. If you are looking to communicate with the public during a crisis, it’s important to remember a few things. 

Clear communications in a crisis is most important

Messages have to be clear, concise and leave no room for interpretation, because as we have seen, people can and will interpret things in different ways.

Mixed messages confuse people

Navigating an evolving situation means that mistakes may occur. Sending clear and direct messages and remaining transparent as you try to avoid or correct problems will earn you trust. 

The behaviors you want people to adopt should be simple and doable in a crisis situation

In order to successfully transition hundreds of millions of diverse people, new behaviors need to be easy to implement. Citizens, but most importantly, administrations have to promote simple actions and activities that are doable for everyday Americans. Our country is made up of people from all walks of life, living in different areas and having different experiences during this pandemic. In the COVID-19 crisis, the health protocol should be direct and simple enough for every person to follow.

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