5 Steps to Effectively Communicate in a Crisis

By Christina Siebold, Partner


In an earlier blog, I focused on preparing for a crisis, I talked about steps that every business should take to prepare for the inevitable. Today, I’m following up with five tips for managing a crisis once you’re in the middle of it. This list is certainly not all-inclusive, but if you start here, you’ll find yourself in a better position to engage during a crisis.

1.     Identify spokesperson
Depending on the nature and severity of the crisis, this could be the company CEO, a board member or your media manager. You should also have identified a backup, just in case your primary spokesperson is ill or unavailable. Ideally, this person has already been through media relations training and understands the basics of messaging.

2.     Message clearly
In times of crisis, it’s easy to either withhold too much information or get trapped into discussing hypothetical scenarios. Before going live, identify what your company has and is doing to correct / mitigate the situation. You may need to make policy or safety changes internally before speaking to the press. When you have all the facts in place, make a statement or hold a press conference:

  • Identify the situation – facts only, no hypotheticals
  • Discuss impact to your key stakeholders
  • Describe what your company is doing to correct / mitigate the situation
  • Include your employees; updating them early and often can provide you with positive voices in the community.

3.    Understand stakeholders
In a crisis, you will be speaking to a variety of key audiences, including employees, vendors, investors, clients, regulatory agencies, government officials and neighbors. While your messaging should remain consistent across all stakeholder groups, understanding their priorities, and then speaking to these directly, will be important.

4.     Choose your channels
Depending on your key stakeholders, you will likely need to choose different channels to communicate key messages. We can’t rely on the media to share our message with key audiences. So think through your options. For internal audiences, an employee meeting might be best, giving them a chance to hear directly from their leaders. For government officials, a phone call could be in order. Don’t forget to use your social media channels. A candid video message from the company president may be an effective way to reach your neighbors and vendors.

5.     Practice transparency
In any crisis, transparency and credibility are key factors that are intertwined. If your company is perceived to be hiding the truth, you will lose credibility and the damaging effects will last far beyond the current crisis. Your mom was right…honesty really is the best policy.

In our very connected world, putting our heads down and hoping for the best in a crisis is no longer an option. By taking a few simple steps, you and your company can be prepared to manage the next threat. If you need help in developing your strategy, give me a call. Much like my home security consultant, communications advisors are often called upon to parachute into the midst of a crisis. But we are most effective when we have worked with an organization to develop a crisis plan in advance, positioning them in a confident, proactive stance.

Stay tuned next week as we close out this series with a few lessons in after-action reports defining how to evaluate whether your plan worked.