20 Mar 2023

The Basics of Crisis Communications

Whether it’s a natural disaster, a corporate scandal, or a public health emergency, the way we communicate during a crisis can make all the difference to the duration and severity of the crisis, the human effects and the longevity of damage to a brand.

Over the years, I have spent a great deal of time helping businesses, organisations, and individuals prepare to handle the media during a crisis. Along the way, a number of vey clear do’s and don’ts have emerged.

In simple terms…

The Do’s of Crisis Communications

  1. Be Proactive

    Anticipating a crisis is half the battle won. Identify potential threats and create a robust crisis communication plan. This includes designating a crisis management team, outlining roles and responsibilities, and developing a protocol for releasing information to the media and the public. Regularly review and update your plan to ensure that it remains effective.
  2. Designate a spokesperson

    Choose a competent spokesperson who can effectively communicate your organization’s message to the media and the public. This person should be well-versed in media relations and have a strong understanding of your organization’s goals and values.
  3. Be honest and transparent

    When a crisis hits, transparency is key. Be upfront about the situation and provide accurate, timely information. Admit your mistakes and outline the steps you’re taking to address the issue. The public is more likely to trust an organization that acknowledges its shortcomings and takes responsibility for its actions.
  4. Be empathetic and compassionate

    In times of crisis, people are often scared, frustrated, and seeking reassurance. Demonstrating empathy and compassion towards those affected can help build trust and establish a connection with your audience. Acknowledge the emotions and concerns of those impacted by the crisis, and express your commitment to support and aid them in any way possible.
  5. Prioritise clear and concise messaging

    During a crisis, information can become muddled, and misinformation can spread like wildfire. To counteract this, ensure your messaging is clear, concise, and consistent. Avoid using jargon or overly technical language, as this may cause confusion or misunderstandings. Instead, focus on delivering the most critical information in a way that is easily understood by your target audience.
  6. Use multiple communication channels

    Leverage a variety of communication channels to ensure that your message reaches as many people as possible. This includes traditional media outlets, such as newspapers, radio, and television, as well as digital platforms like social media, email, and your organization’s website. By using multiple channels, you can maximize your message’s reach and ensure that your audience stays informed.
  7. Monitor and respond to feedback

    Keep a close eye on the public’s reaction to your crisis communication efforts. Monitor social media, news outlets, and other platforms to gauge public sentiment and track any misinformation that may be circulating. Respond to questions, concerns, and feedback in a timely and thoughtful manner. This not only demonstrates that you’re actively listening, but it also helps to build trust and credibility with your audience.

The Dont’s of Crisis Communications

  1. Don’t go silent In a crisis, silence can be your worst enemy.

    Failing to communicate can lead to speculation, rumors, and misinformation, which can further damage your organization’s reputation. Even if you don’t have all the answers, it’s essential to acknowledge the crisis, express concern for those affected, and assure your audience that you’re working diligently to gather more information and address the issue.
  2. Don’t speculate or make assumptions

    When communicating during a crisis, it’s crucial to stick to the facts and avoid speculating or making assumptions. Sharing inaccurate or unverified information can erode trust and credibility, making it more challenging to manage the crisis effectively. If you’re unsure about specific details or are still gathering information, be transparent about the situation and commit to providing updates as they become available.
  3. Don’t downplay the severity of the crisis

    Attempting to minimize the severity of a crisis can backfire and lead to increased public skepticism and mistrust. Be honest about the gravity of the situation and communicate the potential risks and challenges associated with the crisis. Demonstrating a clear understanding of the issue and a commitment to addressing it head-on will help to establish trust and confidence in your organization.
  4. Don’t ignore the media

    While it may be tempting to avoid the media during a crisis, doing so can be detrimental to your communication efforts. The media plays a crucial role in disseminating information and shaping public perception. Engage with the media proactively and provide them with accurate, timely information to ensure your organization’s side of the story is accurately represented.
  5. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver

    In a crisis, it’s natural to want to reassure the public and offer solutions. However, making promises you can’t keep or setting unrealistic expectations can ultimately damage your credibility. Be honest about what you can and cannot do and provide realistic timelines for addressing the crisis.
  6. Don’t neglect internal communication

    While it’s essential to communicate effectively with external audiences during a crisis, don’t forget about the importance of internal communication. Keep your employees informed and updated on the situation, as they are your organization’s most significant ambassadors. Provide them with clear, consistent information and guidance on how to handle inquiries from customers, stakeholders, or the media.
  7. Don’t rely solely on written communication

    In a crisis, communication needs to be swift and agile. While written statements, press releases, and social media updates are important, they shouldn’t be your only means of communication. Incorporate video or audio messages, interviews, and live updates to create a more personal connection with your audience and show your organization’s commitment to addressing the issue.