Crisis Comms: 3 Tips from a Healthcare PR Practitioner During COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our communities in ways that I’m sure many of us never would’ve imagined. As communicators, we are uniquely positioned to help our clients navigate these uncertain times and stay connected with their stakeholders.

While I’ve always felt fortunate to work in healthcare PR, that feeling has been even stronger during this time when accurate, up-to-date information is especially crucial. I’ve been truly humbled by the response and dedication of frontline workers, not only at our many wonderful health systems throughout Southeastern Michigan who are caring for patients, but also those serving in separate roles that are essential to our society.

These past several weeks, as the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved, have been an interesting and challenging time to work in media relations. With information that changes by the minute, providing an update is not always easy as it seems. Here are a few media relations reminders to remember during a crisis.

Don’t Speculate

One of the things people often desire is certainty, and even more so in times like now when there’s a significant lack of it. When communicating with reporters, you may be tempted – whether intentionally or unintentionally – to speculate about how you think a certain situation will play out, or what will happen next. You should try to avoid speculating about situations like these, especially when you may be lacking critical information. Speculation can easily create misinformation, even though that was not your intent.

It’s OK to Say You Don’t Know

Along the same lines of avoiding speculation, it is OK to admit you don’t have some information readily available. If asked for something you aren’t completely certain of, let the person know you need to confirm the information and you will follow up with them as soon as possible. With looming deadlines, this can at times be challenging, but you will always be better off confirming and providing accurate information, even if it takes slightly longer.

You Are on the Record

In media relations, many times, you are working to set up interviews in response to a request, or those you’ve proactively arranged. When doing so, remember what you say to a reporter can be considered on the record. It’s wonderful to build relationships with reporters and you should absolutely do so, but remember to be mindful of how you interact and the information you share. Transparency is an incredibly important aspect of public relations, but that must be balanced with the sensitivity of the message.

I hope you are all finding the support you need, both professionally and personally, to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic even stronger than you went into it. As always, remember to practice adequate self-care and communicate with your team if there are times when you need some help. We will all get through this together (but at least six feet apart)!

Jeff Adkins is a public relations specialist with Henry Ford Health System and a Detroit PRSA board member/programming committee chair.