How We Respond to COVID-19 Today Will Define How We Shape Tomorrow
by Lauren Howe
In February, I left my job in corporate America and executed a business plan years in the making to open my own public relations firm. I launched the business, empHowered PR, LLC, in Fitchburg the week of March 24—the same week we all quickly realized how life was going to change. Schools were shut down, businesses were on the brink of closure, and the safety and health of our community was—and still is—top-of-mind.
The past few months have prompted business owners to re-think about how they will do business in the time of COVID-19. And as we enter into a new phase of the pandemic, businesses are beginning to reopen in line with government guidelines to ensure the safety of employees and those they serve.
Throughout this crisis, I counseled my clients through their most difficult challenges. The truth is that some found ways to endure, others took a pause and, sadly, others chose to close their business for good. As a crisis communications professional, it is my job to find the right words to respond to a question or concern from a client’s employee, customer, or reporter. But, it’s also an opportunity to serve as a confidant and be the person your client can trust and lean on during those challenging times.
Here are some of the takeaways I learned while working through the pandemic, not only as a communications professional, but also as a small business owner:
Be kind. We are all struggling during this time, some of us more than others. We need to understand that each person handles stress differently. Learn how your employees, clients and colleagues manage their mental health and adjust your approach in how you work with and respond to them. Acknowledging and validating your employees’ fears and anxiety will forge a stronger connection to your people. Remember, they may need you more than ever right now.
Information fatigue is real. Allow yourself to unplug from social media and watching the news while also being aware that your employees and other stakeholders are also being inundated with information. Listen to your stakeholders on when they want to hear from you and what they want to know. Honest, candid, and empathetic messaging will go a long way when sharing information about how your business is responding to the pandemic.
Make the powerless powerful. Many businesses are thinking—and working—outside the box to rethink how to utilize their people, products, and services. Businesses have adjusted their trade and are now making face masks, while others are now learning how to make hand sanitizer. Additionally, others are offering knowledge and expertise in their field to non-profits and small businesses at little or no cost. We may feel powerless against the pandemic, but we can be powerful in how our business responds to it by helping others.
Learn from the process. We all adapted as best as we could with every challenge that has come our way, both at home and at work. As we slowly move toward the “new normal,” it is important to document our experiences and apply the lessons learned to future business continuity plans.
Massachusetts is beginning to re-open under a slow, phased approach, which means we will once again need to be flexible in our business plans and strategy to effectively respond to the regulations. As the pandemic continues to impact our lives and our livelihood, it is by rising above the challenges that we will be a stronger business community now and in the future.
Lauren Howe is Principal and Owner of empHowered PR, a boutique public relations firm located in Fitchburg focusing on brand strategy, crisis management and response, and corporate social responsibility.
What is a Guest Columnist?
Being a member of the North Central Massachusetts Chamber provides members with many opportunities to gain valuable information and connections. We are always on the lookout for valuable content that would be on interest to our members and communities. In an effort to provide an avenue to more easily access the vast array of the knowledge and expertise that our members possess, we are now offering exclusive Guest Columnist articles for the benefit of our members. As a membership based organization, submissions will only be considered from members at the Business Choice level and above.
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