May 19, 2020
Navigating the present coronavirus crisis means working through the unknown every single day. Part of our jobs as PR professionals is to anticipate the unexpected and prepare appropriate messaging for the given context, but how do we ensure our focus remains on problem solving and not selling during a crisis? How do we manage existing campaigns without being insensitive, and how do we respond to a negative situation appropriately, all while remaining ‘on-brand’?
These were all questions running through my mind before I had the pleasure of remotely attending a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) webinar featuring Ann Wylie of Wylie Communications on tips for PR writing during a crisis. Below are a few of my favorite takeaways on how to write effectively during COVID-19 (or any crisis):
Write with compassion.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are writing for. Make sure the tone is appropriate for the context of the occasion and audience and does not come off as insensitive. Think about it this way—it’s not about ME, it’s about WE. Read over your work and count the ratios of I/You, Me/We to ensure the focus is on the audience.
During a crisis, it is especially important to communicate early and communicate often. Being proactive instead of reactive can help unify your message and show ownership and understanding of the situation. It’s okay to say you don’t know something instead of not addressing it at all – silence can be misinterpreted. Just make sure you have the credibility, authority and stakeholder permission to say what you’re saying.
Everyone is stressed right now. Nobody has the time or attention span to read a dense article amidst the constant steam of COVID-19 news right now, especially those on the frontlines. A good rule of thumb in life and in writing is to simply get to the point. Cut through the clutter by streamlining sentences and paragraphs. Pro tip: The ‘sweet spot’ for sentence understanding is 14 words. Try Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics feature for helpful info on the readability and clarity of your content.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve, remember to be compassionate in your work. The most important thing in as communicators in a crisis is to be there to support your clients’ needs. We are all in this together!