“What part of the message don’t you understand?” This is an unnerving reflection on the community’s toilet paper and supermarket shopping outrage  in response to the Coronavirus - COVID-19.
A key tenant of crisis management is to quell fear and outrage.
The senior management of Australia's supermarket chains has failed abysmally in this. Their lack of clear decision-making in supply chain management, shelf management and customer purchasing behaviour shows they do not understand not only 'outrage', but also the first principles of crisis management.
Now with the virus classified as a world pandemic, the State of Victoria in a state of emergency and the World Health Organisation (WHO) calling for workplaces to play their part in helping to curtail the virus, communicators must develop messages that strike a nuanced balance that ensures a sense of urgency, assuages fear and avoids apathy - Plan B.
Clarity in decision making and misinformation
Lack of clarity in decision-making, misinformation, mixed messages and ill-informed commentary create climates of fear. Communicators know full-well that misinformation is not fuelled by the absence of information, but by the absence of information that is trusted, reliable and solutions focussed. This is compounded by evidence which shows that trust in leaders and institutions is also at an all-time low .
The combination of the two has created a ‘fear’ about the virus and when fear takes over the Executive brain, the Primitive part often leads us away from rational thought.
She'll be right mate
These irrational actions are also leading us away from our reputation of 'she'll be right mate' in the face of adversity.
Now is the time for trusted messages and decisive actions - all of which are vital to managing any crisis and addressing community outrage. These needs are heightened by our age of global connectivity, where information spreads at a pace which often outdates actions within minutes and hours, not days.
Speculation has no part in crisis response, especially from those in leadership positions. It creates confusion, mistrust and contributes to fear.
With health authorities focussed on the containment phase in overcoming the virus and moving into the mitigation phase, corporate communicators would do well to assert three overriding tenets of crisis management to their campaigns – assess, listen and act. They can help shape the narrative to break through the fear and outrage -
The Communicator’s capabilities (especially to deliver authoritative messages)
To stakeholder concerns
To informed and credible (trusted) sources
To the Constraints and Challenges
To specific stakeholder groups and their information needs (understand your audiences’ needs)
Communicate regularly and factually
Communicate with authority
Footnote: RMA Strategic communication advisory specialises in stakeholder engagement and communication, reputation management and issues and crisis management.
 Peter Sandman principle: Risk = Hazard + Outrage. “If people are outraged because they do not understand the hazard, educate them about the hazard. If they are outraged and DO understand the hazard, you must address the outrage.”