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Blog: Chapter Updates During Coronavirus

June 3, 2020 - COVID-19: A Crisis that Grounded the Aviation Industry 

By: Greg Willis, Assembly Delegate, NFPRSA Board of Directors
Marketing & Public Relations Manager | Jacksonville Aviation Authority

About every 10 years, it seems that the commercial aviation industry is destined to deal with a crisis that will change it forever. 

After 9/11, it was the creation of the TSA and a renewed focus on airport security.  When the financial markets collapsed in 2008, North American airlines were forced to learn capacity discipline, affecting mid-size markets’ (like Jacksonville) ability to get new service.   

And in 2020 we are in the midst of another crisis, unlike one the industry has ever experienced before. While demand for flights fell off a cliff in mid-March, April gave us the first full month to survey the effect COVID-19 had at Jacksonville International Airport (JAX): Passenger traffic was down 95% over the prior year.

This pandemic will change the travel experience in ways I don’t think we can all fully appreciate just yet. 

Airport staff have been fielding calls about our COVID-19 response since late January. Here are some of the things that I learned first-hand over the last several months. While nothing is revelatory for long-time practitioners, I think they are worth mentioning. 

Stay in Your Lane 

Airports are heavily regulated entities where local, state and federal authorities are all involved. When dealing with the media, it’s essential we “stay in our lane.” Many of the issues that occur don’t directly involve our agency - and many of the organizations they do effect don’t want us overstepping and talking on their behalf. 

Sick passenger on a flight? Media needs to speak with the appropriate airline. Air traffic controllers in Chicago contract COVID and stations want to localize the story by discussing cleaning procedures in our control tower? That’s a question for the FAA. 

Even though we often field the initial request - we might not be the appropriate subject matter expert. Being able to put media in touch with the correct entity in a timely manner is essential.    

Communicate Hard Truths

No one has a crystal ball to know exactly when travel will reach pre-COVID levels. Recovery could take years depending on the availability of a vaccine. Despite receiving federal assistance from the CARES act, Airline CEOs are saying layoffs may still be necessary after September 30 if travel doesn’t return. It’s a scary time to work in the aviation business. Our leadership team has spoken to that uncertainty from the beginning, being realistic with employees about the severity of the crisis while discussing efforts to mitigate any potential job loss. While it may be tough for employees to hear, it’s important everyone understands what’s at stake.  

Discuss the Process

There have been a lot of changes to the airport over the last few months. All economy parking lots are closed. Shuttles no longer run. Walking through the terminal feels like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. Most shops and restaurants are closed. The lights are off. And the few passengers traveling are wearing masks. These things didn’t all happen overnight. As events evolved, airport staff tried to be proactive discussing these changes and how they will reshape the travel experience. 

As the conversation turns to recovery, it will be essential for airports nationwide to communicate what we’re doing for passengers safety. Before people will fly again, they need to have confidence that airports, airlines, the TSA and others are doing everything we can to protect them. And even that might not be enough.      

Commiserate with Colleagues  

One of my saving graces during this crisis has been a bi-weekly conference call hosted by the trade organization Airports Council International - North America (ACI-NA). Hundreds of communications professionals dial-in, and there’s usually a good discussion about how airports are handling things in their respective markets along with the latest industry news. It’s been an incredibly useful way to share best practices and also steal good ideas. 

For those of you that might not have trade organizations at your disposal, consider utilizing local associations like PRSA. We all have war stories to tell and a lot of wisdom to be shared. The PRSA programs and events over the next several months are a perfect opportunity to do just that. 

ApriL 27, 2020 - PR Fundamentals Critical During the COVID-19 Era

By: Ilyssa Drumm, Secretary, NFPRSA Board of Directors
Social Media and Media Relations Consultant | GuideWell

COVID-19 has no doubt changed how we all live our lives. From the way we grocery shop to how we interact with friends and family to the way we work. As a health care communicator, communicating during a public health crisis has never been more important. While this pandemic has posed many challenges, it has also opened up new opportunities and given me time to reflect on how imperative it is to be relevant, timely and empathetic.

Don’t Overcommunicate

Health care PR pros are in a unique position and must educate and provide useful information to the public. But trying to figure out how much information to communicate so people don’t get burned out is a balancing act. Everyone has coronavirus on their mind, and everyone is in front of a computer or smart phone, so we can assume people want to hear about coronavirus in their social feeds and while watching or reading the news. But how much is too much? And, what information should we be communicating? First, we need to understand that the pros are pros for a reason. It’s okay to point people to third-party health experts like those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization. And as for how much to communicate---monitor audience engagement. When people begin to disengage, you may want to pump the breaks, change your messaging or communicate in a different, more effective way.

Share Good News

Mental health hotlines are seeing a spike in callers because so many people are feeling anxious and overwhelmed. There are fears of getting sick and people are trying to balance working from home, while taking care of children or elderly loved ones. During a time like this, it’s important to realize that people need a break from the negativity i.e. how many new people are testing positive or how many new deaths are being reported. People want to see positive stories sprinkled into the newscasts and into their news feeds. There’s an abundance of these stories, you just have to be engaged in your organization and seek those opportunities out. During a crisis or disaster, we often see people rise up and demonstrate resiliency and togetherness. Look at the images of people delivering food to health care workers, staying up at all hours of the night to sew masks for their neighbors or put signs health care workers’ front yards that say, “a hero lives here.” These are the types of stories that get a thumbs up on social media because they make us feel good about humanity and bring a sense of togetherness during what feels like a very challenging time.

Remain Relevant

This pandemic has also reminded me of the importance of being thoughtful in how and what I communicate. We all know COVID-19 is dominating the headlines. Newsrooms are looking for coronavirus-stories. In Public Relations–it’s not the right time to pitch off-topic news stories. I always ask myself, “is there a coronavirus tie to this?” Because, if there isn’t, there’s a good chance my story won’t get covered.  In addition, my company could also come across as insensitive. And because PR professionals work in the reputation management business, none of us would want our organizations to be criticized for being insensitive or out of touch. Pitching stories that reporters want right now can strengthen our relationships with journalists.

So–if you can find a coronavirus tie to your story, you will most likely have a better chance of getting your story covered. And, for social media the same holds true. If you communicate in a way that is informative, factual and timely, you will likely see more engagement. And, remember it’s okay to say no. When stakeholders or other departments want to push their agenda on your social media channels or want to distribute a news release that isn’t relevant, it’s okay to say, “maybe another day but right now is not the right time.”

While COVID-19 may be the worst health care pandemic we’ve experienced in our lifetime, there is no telling that it will be the only one. If history repeats itself or if we experience any other public crisis in our lifetime, it’s important to remember the fundamental of PR and put them into practice so we can be as effective as possible.

 

April 23, 2020 - A Message from our President, Jill Matejcek

Unprecedented. As a communicator, how many times have you used that word this past month? How many of your crisis communications plans included a global pandemic?

Our world changed just about overnight. How are you all doing?

At the beginning of 2020, I mentioned the area I wanted to focus on most for our chapter is engagement. We were off to a great start. We planned some fantastic programs and had the pleasure of meeting some new PR professionals at our events throughout the first quarter. And then … COVID-19.

I asked then, and I’m going to ask again now: How can we best serve your needs this year? That question has taken on a whole new meaning since January. But how can PRSA best serve you now, during and after this crisis?

If you have a couple of minutes, please click on this brief survey and let us know.

As communicators, your role is essential. If you need assistance during these unique times, don’t forget that PRSA National offers great online programming to all members and PRSA staff can assist you with any questions you have as a result of these changes.

We hope to see you all again in person as soon as it is safe to do so. Until then, we’re here if you need us.

Please stay safe and wash your hands!

Sincerely,

Jill Matejcek 
President, NFPRSA
Manager, Public and Community Relations
Brooks Rehabilitation
(904) 328-9531
[email protected]

 

March 17, 2020 - CORONAVIRUS UPDATE from the NFPRSA Board of Directors

To our NFPRSA Family,

As communications professionals, we are all well aware of the ongoing concerns surrounding the spread and impact of COVID-19. Your health and safety continues to be our most important priority, and we remain committed to keeping you up to date on the actions both PRSA and our chapter are taking as the situation develops.

Along with PRSA National, we have had to make difficult decisions due to the uncertainty about the continued trajectory of the Coronavirus. This includes canceling scheduled programs for April and May. We were disappointed to have had to make these decisions, but it was important for us to take these extra safety measures at this time. We are exploring other options to keep members connected through online venues. More information will be coming soon.

We know social distancing can present challenges, but we urge you to stay connected and engaged during this time. Don’t forget that PRSA National offers a great lineup of online programming to all members and PRSA staff can assist you with any modifications you need to make or answer any questions you have as a result of these changes.

NFPRSA will continue to evaluate our in-person programming schedule using information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other government resources on both local and national levels and keep you posted should further actions or cancellations be required.

Stay safe and healthy.

Sincerely,

NFPRSA Board of Directors