The following document provides some communications guidelines and recommendations for businesses responding to the unprecedented tragedy of this past week. We are offering this document as a public service in the hope that many of your readers may find it useful as businesses grapple with decisions about how and what to communicate to their employees, customers and the public.
The following recommendations should not be considered comprehensive, but do address key areas, including:

         Employee losses, uncertainty and grief.

         Notification of office status and security.

         CEO/executive statements.

         Communicating with customers.

         Communications regarding community, volunteer and donation activities.

         Communications on the immediate impact on business plans, meetings, sales and international/domestic shipping.

Recommendations for companies dealing with employee/friend losses, uncertainty and grief resulting from this tragedy:

         Companies who may have employees directly effected should post a letter or clearly identified link on the home page of their website offering both information and company perspective.  If possible, this letter should come from the CEO and  should include:

-             a statement of condolence and grief

-            statement of continued purpose

-            broad actions initiated in response to this disaster

-            status of fellow employees

-            link or statement on more detailed information regarding the crises

                     link or phone numbers for employee inquiries and concerns

                     “how you can help” information or links to organizations providing aid to those most directly effected by the tragedy such as the Red Cross and/or similar organizations

         Given the unprecedented scope and severity of this tragedy, companies should be prepared to help employees with resulting emotional and psychological issues.  Companies should consider providing the following on an ongoing basis:

-           accurate and current information regarding the status and safety of fellow employees and security of the workplace 

-           information regarding available counseling services as needed either through a hotline or, if possible, on site

-           information that the company is preparing for long-term availability of counseling services

-           a general statement, prepared by experts, on possible symptoms of stress and emotional trauma resulting from these events

-           a statement that recognizes the need to provide employees with time-off to help them recover and regenerate from this disaster individually

Notification of office status and security:

         Companies should immediately post the status of offices directly on their website and by email as the Internet has clearly become the most reliable communications structure during this disaster:

-           information should be placed or a clear link provided on a company’s  home page addressing the status of corporate offices-whether closed, open, operational or requiring only essential staff


-           detailed information for specific office locations should be provided via a link from office information on the home page


-           employers should provide clear instructions for their employees regarding whether they are required to work at all, work at their normal office locations, work at alternate locations or work from home


         Employers should place information or clearly provide a link for information on their home page, by email or Intranet directly addressing the ongoing safety and security concerns. Employees should provide responses to specific concerns and what steps have been taken to ensure workplace safety. This should include:

-           detailed information available through additional links to a Q&A and toll-free numbers for any employees who have outstanding questions or concerns

CEO/executive statements: 

         The CEO should be the company spokesperson and should speak to company stakeholders as soon as is reasonable given the situation:

-           responses should be sent via email, voicemail and posted on the company’s website and should come directly from the CEO if possible

-           a CEO response demonstrates that the company takes the issue seriously and is focused its full resources on resolving the situation

-           lower-level company officials or consultants such as lawyers and communications professionals should not be used speak and can give the impression that the person or company is unsympathetic, insensitive or unresponsive

-           others can participate if they have direct, firsthand knowledge (e.g. were there) or expertise (e.g. discuss legal ramifications) that the person or CEO doesn't possess

-           communications should be done simultaneously, if possible and appropriate, to all stakeholders at once. If it is not appropriate or possible, internal audiences and key close external audiences should be communicated to before the general public. Employees should not feel they were "out of the loop"

-           in addition to communications from the CEO via the Web or phone, the CEO should visit the company site (if applicable) and view the situation personally if possible, safe and at the appropriate time

         The “message” for a CEO response should address the following directly: 

-           recognize the disaster or problem and relate what it is/was. In this case, the disaster is frighteningly obvious

-            express sympathy for those affected

-           report on what steps are being taken immediately to help assist with the immediate aftermath; cooperate with others

-            report on what actions will be taken to help those affected

-           report on what steps, if any or if possible, will be taken to ensure a similar disaster won't happen in the future

         It is important to test the messaging with a number of objective parties for understanding and impact if time or conditions permit. The CEO should be very careful about speaking in absolutes before facts are in. If false or misleading, the company may wind up retracting its statements and damaging CEO and corporate credibility. However, given the severity of this crises, the CEO must form and deliver a swift response.

         Most importantly, the CEO should show genuine, heartfelt compassion in response to the crises. With regard to this tragedy a heartfelt response will be natural. The CEO should also attempt to genuinely connect as much as possible with the victims (as a fellow employee, member of the community, customer, etc.) and offer services to those effected, if possible and appropriate.

         The text of the message should be posted on the home page of the company website.

Communicating with your customers:

         The concerns of employees and their families should be the first priority, but companies should address customer concerns as soon as it's appropriate.

         A customer link should be provided on the home page or CEO statement.

         A FAQ document with contact information should be posted on the company website to answer the most common questions from customers.

         The company should use the remaining available employees and partners as a resource during the crisis to communicate and assist customers who may also be effected by the crises or still require daily service.

         Salespeople with client relationships should proactively contact their clients to inform them of the situation and, when applicable, offer them assistance.

         At the same time, the company should create a customer crisis line staffed with trained customer relations or salespeople to answer any outstanding customer questions, concerns  or emergency requirements.

         The company should consider offering free or at reduced prices product support/service/repair to those affected by the crisis.
Community, volunteer, donation activities in response to the crises:

         The company should support and encourage employees, customers, and stakeholders to reach out to the community through volunteering and donations.

         These activities should be pursued with the best intentions and must be genuine. In no way should companies use these activities to elevate and promote themselves for business purposes:
-           donations of time, money or other resources on a corporate-level should be done when management feels it is "the right thing to do" but should not be leveraged for public relations benefit
Immediate impact on business plans, meetings, sales, international/domestic shipping:

         During a crisis, the company should communicate any meeting, conference, etc. cancellations as quickly as reasonable to those involved.  However, given the magnitude of this tragedy, timing of  planned events, and condition of travel, participants will likely assume plans will be altered.

         This type of communication should be done after higher priority communications tasks.  If the event/meeting is posted on the company website, an update should be made there.

         Event registration call center employees should also be provided with any necessary updates so they can deal with incoming calls regarding the event appropriately and immediately.

         Companies must provide accurate information to customers regarding shipping capability as they, suppliers and other relevant parties will understand shipping delays if air or ground shipping companies have been affected by the crises.

         These organizations will almost always specify how they are handling delayed shipping on their website. 
Source: Applied Communications