Crisis communication is mostly deployed as a damage control step. But, the Covid crisis has given an entirely new meaning to communication strategy. Covid has punished those who did not respond correctly. And their predicament is a new lesson for the professionals, the users and the needy.
Anticipatory communication tools have come to prominence in this crisis. Certain service sectors did not foresee events that unfolded or ignored menacing demands on the very nature of their services. Series of unenforced errors on the part of private hospitals is one case of reference. Despite being in the diagnostic field, they failed to see the malignancy of the system that would push them onto the defensive posture because of a simple fault of not deploying proper communication.
Covid crisis underscores an essential element of communication – numbers, its power and its use or abuse. The managements of private hospitals allowed themselves to be crushed under the Covid numbers. They could have been better prepared to handle the backlash or even avoided it, if they had unity of numbers and the reality of a highly regulated sector, whose hands are always tied. Anticipating the pandemic spread, they could have voluntarily announced offers of facilities in numbers and the number of staff availability. First of the block always has the advantage of controlling the narrative path. On the strength of their initiative they could have bargained for better returns for their services. Opening at least one door could have saved them from the tsunami of the government response.
The government is clueless but is forced to tackle the virus. In such a situation, it seized the reluctance of the hospital sector to cover its failures. In a way, by default the government turned out to be a better communicator. Timing of communication is what we learn from the government action of engaging the private hospitals before the clampdown.
When the authorities came down with a sledgehammer, these managements tried to come up with all kinds of justifications for initial non-cooperation. But justification is not communication. Society never condones justifications because it always seems like one-sided. In this manner, the tone of response and the lack of show of flexibility became the method of damage control communication.
The Covid crisis demands a generous dose of communication to undo the damage of self-goal. But what we see around is a narrow approach to the issue at hand.
The fundamentals of communication say that it has to be precise. But the Covid crisis is not normal. In this new normal, service sectors have to be agile and take professional help to communicate the correct picture on a continuous basis in anticipating the need to talk, timing of shouting and measured damage control communication. Before the outrage of society consumes you, respond and not react.