by Jonah Malin, 4.3.2020

Staying Connected During COVID-19: Breaking Down Coverage and Your Association’s Response

No industry is safe right now and this rings especially true for associations and creative agencies. With the cancellation of major exhibitions, conferences, and in-person meetings, it is critical that associations are able to keep their audience informed with accurate information.

COVID-19 may permanently change the way brands market, advertise, and promote themselves to clients and members. We now have to rely on unified communication through virtual experiences so employees, clients, and members can stay connected from the safety of their home.

As an agency focused on pushing boundaries, we are trying to help you work through COVID-19 with our “Staying Connected During COVID-19” series. Despite a myriad of different challenges, there are two consistent problems every association is facing: whose information can be trusted and how to effectively respond. Associations both large and small need to be able to cut through the clutter and reinforce important content.

Between #coronavirus Twitter and a general denial of best practices, it is clear that the disruption to our livelihood will only improve if everyone gets on the same page. And who do people turn to when they need trusted advice? The leading associations that influence them everyday.

As Mark DeVito, President of Beyond Definition, said in an earlier post, “Businesses and their brands can and should lead, especially here in the U.S. with government and other leadership in flux, the brands that we respect and support can lead the way.”

Beyond Definition exists to further your mission. We are not healthcare professionals or experts in COVID-19. But we understand the media from an agency’s perspective and how it functions in our society. Welcome to your crash course in media comprehension. We’ll show you how to navigate the complexities of coverage as an association and disseminate accurate information accordingly. Let’s dive in.

The Surface: Pay Attention To Your Source

Media can be understood by identifying the information you need and then selecting the appropriate media platform to get that information. There are many different types of media platforms that you can choose from including radio, television, social media, books, online resources, and magazines. The channel your association uses to pull from and then communicate to members is crucial. Now is not the time to go dark or ignore the looming situation. It’s a rare moment for associations to make a real impact on members and their respective industries.

When considering the credibility and timeliness of a source, there are three questions you should ask:

  • Are claims made by the source backed by expert-led opinions?
  • Is there a commercial influence or bias influencing the narrative?
  • What is the publish date and has it been updated as new information is revealed?

While it can be difficult to completely understand a rapidly evolving public health event like the one we are currently facing, aim for science-based reporting. Regarding COVID-19, this may include the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health. Be careful and pay attention to your sources – the spread of inaccurate information when lives are at stake could quickly turn into a PR nightmare.

Assemble Your Team

To maintain efficient work and messaging for internal and external stakeholders, your association needs a trusted team of media interpreters who can make quick judgements about the truth and relevance of different media messages. Don’t worry, these don’t need to be trained professionals with an extensive background in media comprehension. Instead, aim for a seasoned brand expert who can keep messaging aligned with your core values and a copywriter with a pension for quick turnarounds who can clarify verbiage. Then simply fill in the gaps.

Before making public statements and risk mixed messaging, make sure everyone in your association is pulling from the same bucket of information.

Communicate What Matters

Provide a resource page for information that links to credible sources like the CDC and articles with relevant information. This will let your members know that you care about their safety and well-being. Your association should consider a Q&A page with common questions that you are seeing from other associations or members. Be sure to update your audience on the changing timelines of important industry events and if anything is shifting to a virtual webcast or livestream.

Continue to engage, provide actionable information, and step-up to the challenge in front of us. COVID-19 is a big deal and should be treated as such. The way your team internalizes and then releases any form of media regarding COVID-19 right now can make or break your association’s image for years to come.

Tying It Together

The final component is bringing your credible sources and plan of action together to provide a cohesive, impactful, and memorable response. Keep in mind that your audience cares about social responsibility. Are you following the recommended guidelines? Are employees being put in a low-risk work environment? How are you contributing to better the cause? Construct a public statement like this one from ASAE President and CEO Susan Robertson, CAE, which identifies the challenges her industry will face, points out schedule changes, and offers linked resources with more in-depth explanations on what’s happening.

For another example, take a look at the statement made by our CEO and Founder, Debbie Bates-Schrott. Debbie makes it clear that the safety of our clients and employees is the highest priority right now, while also providing some insights as to how Beyond Definition will continue to deliver on our work. It’s transparent, quick, and thoughtful. Debbie takes it one step further by providing three points of contact who can respond to COVID-19 concerns.

We hope this helps your association better understand how to use available media as an advantage while crafting an accurate, informed response for other associations and your wider community to follow.

As COVID-19 pushes teams into remote, virtual workspaces, our “Staying Connected During COVID-19” series is here to help. Let’s commit to keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities safe, one step at a time. Follow us for tips on how we can further your mission together.

Jonah Malin's headshot

Jonah Malin

Jonah Malin is a creative marketing professional, crafting story-driven content to execute a diverse range of digital, print, and social deliverables.

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