Perspective about the Coronavirus from Hong Kong and China

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Andrei Mylroie
Partner

Mar 5, 2020

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DH is a partner agency of IPREX — the largest network of independently owned agencies in the world. Our partners across the globe have been closely watching the spread of the coronavirus and preparing clients to communicate to employees, customers and communities.

I wanted to share some perspective from our partner David Croasdale, who runs Newell Public Relations in Hong Kong. Newell also has offices in Shanghai and Beijing. Here are some highlights from what David and his team are experiencing:

In Hong Kong, people are working from home.

“Because of the virus, we’re all working from home, at least in Hong Kong. This is to create some physical separation between people. Also, some staff who live far away need to take public transport, and given that face mask supply locally is quite low, we don’t want to give them any extra hardship or stress. So that is an important factor.
I generally think things are OK in Hong Kong. Everyone is wearing masks and not going out. So restaurants and shopping malls are pretty quiet. I went to Starbucks yesterday, and they had only two customers (both Korean) and me.”

Mainland China looks much different…

“China is a different ballgame. I know someone living in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, which is in total lockdown. She is allowed outside once every 2 days for local shopping and has to present a ‘passport’ for stamping by the security bureau outside her apartment block. She can buy masks, wipes, bleach, toilet rolls, rice etc. no problem. Given these strict measures, I think China should get on top of things. If the virus can’t replicate it will come to a natural halt (like it did with SARS).”

So what will happen next?

Like David, and everyone else I know, we’re watching things carefully. I’ve been in communication with colleagues and partners in Europe as well, and they too are taking a bit of a wait and see approach — planning for the worst, but optimistic things will stay under control.

I also wanted to pass along some communication tips when dealing with public health issues of this magnitude from our partner Julie Exner at Fahlgren Mortine in Ohio.

Consider all audiences — start from the inside.

In times of uncertainty, your employees will look for timely information on how your organization expects to be affected and how it will manage through the crisis. Coordinated, consistent and appropriately frequent communication will be appreciated. Your employees are the conduit to other concerned audiences such as customers, investors, supply chain partners, local communities and others.

Use discrete communications.

Under these circumstances, it is advisable to stick to the coronavirus topic and refrain from
incorporating too much corporate strategy and goals into the communication. Empathy and
humanity are top of mind for employees. Don’t induce panic, but express how seriously your
organization takes this global threat. Continue regular business communication but keep it
separate from instructions on the crisis situation.

Leverage credible sources.

The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. are continuously
providing information on the status of the spread of the coronavirus as well as information on
protecting yourself and identifying symptoms. In addition, the organizations provide Q&A and
myth-dispelling information. Provide information to answer specific questions and refer to these sites where employees and others can educate themselves.

Revisit your business continuity plan.

As your IT, HR and Facilities Management teams are reviewing contingency plans, they will
probably need help in communicating appropriately. It is important that the communications
teams understand the processes that will be employed if the business needs to close due to
sickness, if it cannot obtain materials from suppliers or other disruptions. Keep communications consistent and from consistent trusted sources.

Develop a pandemic scenario for your crisis communications plan.

Review your crisis communications plan to be sure you have a scenario that applies to the
coronavirus. Many crisis plans separate physical plant accessibility and reputation scenarios;
today’s challenge can affect both. Double-check the alignment between crisis communication
and business continuity plans. It is always best practice to stage a crisis simulation exercise on
a regular basis. A tabletop exercise specifically devoted to the threats associated with the
coronavirus should be planned sooner rather than later.

Other of our partners at Mower, Rick Lyke, posted another great piece on operational tips for companies in the US to consider.

Thanks to David, Julie and Rick for sharing this perspective!

What you say. How you respond. It matters.

Our experienced communicators, media relations team, content producers and creative team are here to help. Contact our senior leadership directly via phone and email.

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