Communicating Effectively in a Time of Crisis

communicating effectively

Benefits of Communicating Effectively

As we know, the world is involved in a global health crisis, and we are doing our individual and collective best to get through it. Companies of all sizes have been affected and are under extreme pressure of communicating effectively and being more clear than ever. Many management teams may be encountering situations that are new to them, and they want to do what’s right, but they may not know where to start. 

When any crisis hits, it’s critical to communicate effectively and find the right messaging and tone to convey to current and potential future customers, as they will remember the sentiment more than ever. 

So, as companies are navigating the new normal and confronting a variety of crises, here are some tips for communicating effectively in a time of crisis.   


  1. Identify the crisis team

Ideally, most companies have already identified who the crisis team is. Generally, that team is going to be the group of individuals making all decisions concerning the crisis. If this isn’t something that your company has done, I recommend doing it now, as it will help mitigate confusion and will streamline communication when the crisis hits. Typically, this includes senior members of the organization, including a designated member of the C-suite, a strategic communicator, a legal professional, a social media expert, and any subject matter experts who are needed to address the issue at hand. For example, if the issue is related to manufacturing, it’s important to have the head of manufacturing involved in the decision-making process. When a crisis occurs, listening to all appropriate parties and disciplines will help navigate the situation. 


  1. Acknowledge the crisis

The first step in any crisis is to acknowledge it and be open and honest about the situation. Be up-front about the potential issue the company is facing and be transparent about what is occurring to your internal team, and then share externally. Gather additional research about the crisis from key sources, if needed. Understand that each company may see different situations like a crisis. I represented a consumer packaged goods company that was sponsoring a major sports event. The company had planned to create an activation in a river, but due to an unexpected change of current in the water source, it was no longer safe. We had to make adjustments in real-time.

This was indeed a crisis for the company, as it had spent a large amount of money on the sponsorship. They had expected to gain brand recognition with their consumers and the media. We had planned for media outlets to be flying over that area of the river to gather an outside shot of where the sporting event was taking place. The first step in acknowledging the crisis was for the project manager to alert a member of the C-suite, who became part of the day-to-day crisis management team.


  1. Create Communications to share externally

Once the internal team has decided on what key messaging needs to be communicated,  the strategic communicator will develop communications for employees, board members, customers, media, and any other key constitutes and decides on what channels are best for each audience. The communication needs to be authentic, matching the situation in tone and needs to address what action the company or individuals are taking, along with estimated timing, if that’s able to be shared. A social media strategy also needs to be included in the communications plan.

For example, when the plans changed to move the activation described above to another area, the company acknowledged why those plans were changing and ensured that all key audiences were aware of the change.  During this time, media statements were issued over a media wire, and emails were sent to all media, board members, employees, and customers and any other vital influencers associated with the company. 


  1. Media train your spokespeople

As the final messaging and statements are developed, identify spokesperson or spokespeople who will be able to speak to the media on the company’s behalf and ensure that the spokespeople understand how the media operate. The media have practices that need to be followed by those conducting print, broadcast, or video interviews with the press. Additionally, identity spokespeople who are going to handle communications with the board, customers, employees, and other key audiences. Be sure to decide on a spokesperson who is authentic, emphatic to customers, and who comes across as clear and confident in all communications. Additionally, decide on if the communications will be shared on the company’s social media channels as well as on the executives’ or just the company’s channels. 


  1. Scenario plan for what’s next

Once the official statements are out and the first part of the crisis is handled, start thinking about what other scenarios may exist and create a document that outlines each scenario and how the company would handle each situation. For example, in relation to the major sporting event sponsorship, the crisis preparedness team had spent hours thinking through every possible scenario. So, when the one occurred, there was some language that was already developed that was relevant to pull from, even though the exact situation hadn’t been discussed in the scenario planning.


  1. Draft holding statements

To save time in the future, draft holding statements in advance and get approval from the C-suite and legal so they are at the almost approved state before the scenario unfolding.  Ensure that these holding statements are reviewed again once a situation does occur or change, as drafting them in advance allows you to be prepared. Still, there may be some nuances in how the situation may unfold.


  1. Discuss as a team as situations evolve

As the situation changes, the core crisis team needs to continue meeting and evaluating their communications. Get reactions from key constituents, and if there’s a need to correct information or pivot, it’s incredibly important to do so. Sometimes, the crisis unfolds in a different direction than once thought.


  1. Evaluate for next time

The last part of a crisis is to honestly evaluate as a group how well the crisis team did and how well the company responded to what occurred. Sometiunicatmes this is a given, as stock performance or other key business indicators will demonstrate a bounce back or a decline. During this evaluation, decide what worked well so that the company continues to have it in place. Then determine what was lacking and is now needed to move forward. Be critical, as this will prepare the company for communicating effectively during the next crisis.

All companies of all sizes will confront a crisis at some point in time. Unfortunately, if the company isn’t prepared, it can affect the long-term image of the company. Luckily, if the company is ready and handles it well, it will be long forgotten in the minds of its customers, board members, media, and employees, and all will go forward with the situation and increase the reputation of the company.

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