The Golden Rules of Communicating During a Public Health Crisis

When a disease outbreak or epidemic strikes, scores of companies, nonprofits and health groups want to make themselves heard. But the COVID-19 pandemic has turned daily life on its head and companies need to be mindful of that. Otherwise, they not only run the risk of being deemed irrelevant, but also of appearing to be so self-serving that they lack integrity and are out of touch with their communities.

We compiled a list of do’s and don’ts for communicating during a public health crisis to help marketers and communicators navigate these uncertain times.


When will a vaccine be available?

How long will social distancing guidelines be in place?

Are patients that have recovered from the virus now immune?

As of this writing, no one truly knows the answers. While that is frustrating, it is ok to admit. Anthony Fauci, NIAID Director, is a terrific example embodying the qualities of leadership we all crave. He has been a measured voice of reason for weeks, building trust — and accolades — along the way for his ability to admit what he doesn’t know and providing a strong rationale for the actions of his office.


The most meaningful messages in a crisis productively contribute to the conversation. As author and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell notes, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”

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