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Your Utility PR Team Need to Calm Coronavirus Fears

image credit: ID 172810155 © Andrianocz | Dreamstime.com
Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
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  • Mar 24, 2020
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I’ve read numerous articles about how the coronavirus won’t stop utilities from generating power and “keeping the lights on,” so to speak.

In recent days, I’ve suggested that utilities follow the lead of many businesses and send out a message to their customers to tell them that they shouldn’t fear power-related problems caused by coronavirus.

But it appears you may need to do more.

My neighbor (from a distance of more than six feet) told me of his recent trip to the supermarket where a woman had a fit when a cashier told her she could only buy one package of toilet paper. Another person shoved a shopping cart 10 feet out of the way when it blocked his path.

“I saw fear in a lot of people’s eyes,” my neighbor said.

On my own trip at 7 a.m. Sunday to a different supermarket, there wasn’t any outright hostility, but there was suspicion in many eyes.

With people seemingly skeptical of everything (the future being a complete unknown), you need to keep them calm.

A good way to gently do that is through your social media channels. Remind everyone that your employees are hard at work – and show them working, whether it’s linemen, customer service reps working remotely or those overseeing power generating facilities. Of course, make sure they’re properly using social distancing.

In addition, instruct those customer service reps on how to handle coronavirus-related inquiries; there should be a distinct “script” for responding to those questions.

And now may be the time to formulate policies related to bill payment. If the sheltering in place and other containment efforts continue for any length of time, you’ll have droves of customers hard pressed to pay their bills. You’ll need both a policy and response.

Also realize that the rules may well change for your public relations response, possibly on a daily basis. While PR professionals are trained for emergency situations, we’re really in unchartered territory here. Nearly daily reviews of what you’re doing in terms of PR are an imperative.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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