Edelman Public Health Engagement Advisory: Swine Flu
The swine flu situation has called for organizations to thoughtfully, accurately, and promptly
communicate with their many audiences—employees, customers, suppliers, and partners.
Stakeholders want updates in real time. They want information about prevention and treatment, and
reassurance that an organization has a plan to maintain operations in the event of a pandemic.
But in a public health emergency, communication can be fraught with challenges. Organizations receive
information at record speed, multiple agencies disseminate conflicting reports, and rumors spread
quickly. To reassure and inform stakeholders appropriately, organizations need a solid communications
strategy in place.
Should your organization need assistance, Edelman’s team of public health and stakeholder engagement
experts – including Dr. Julie Gerberding, former Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control – can
provide global communications counsel and services. Here is a snapshot of the essential components of
a public health emergency communications plan.
1. Early, yet thoughtful, response is critical. During a public health emergency, people are anxious,
information is often conflicting, and misinformation circulates online and throughout 24/7 news
cycles. It’s important for organizations to engage their stakeholders as early as possible while
ensuring that the company’s information is accurate and not overstated.
2. Reassure employees that their health is the company’s top priority. Providing information about
hygiene and disease prevention measures that employees can act on is vital. Refer teams to national
health authorities’ Web sites and other materials. This information can also inform your own fact
sheets and Q&As.
3. Communicate frequently and transparently with employees and customers. Keep communications
open, even if there’s nothing new to convey. Among employees, companies should reinforce a
common-sense approach to disease prevention. To customers, organizations should convey that
contingency plans are in place to keep operations and communications open in the event of a
4. Speak locally. Public health emergencies differ from market to market, so communications should
be tailored accordingly. To be credible, communications must directly address local concerns.
5. Inform your publics that you have a global business continuity plan to keep operations and
communications running during any disruption. Because an outbreak like swine flu could disrupt
organizations on a global scale, companies must communicate that they have global contingency
plans in place. A business continuity plan should help answer questions that include:
In the event of an outbreak, who comes to work? When? The plan should identify staff who are
essential to day-to-day operations and outline how they will stay connected during a pandemic.
What is management structure going to be like during a crisis?
What is a company’s sick time or other HR policies related to a pandemic? How will employees
be informed about updates?
What contingency plans are in place in the event transportation is disrupted—for employees
and for customers and suppliers?
To learn more and follow swine flu updates, e-mail HealthCounselors.SwineFlu@Edelman.