Crisis Communication: What to Say, How to Say it, When to Say it

We are currently living through times of turbulence and uncertainty with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine.

Although we won’t be able to stop the crisis from happening, we have got some pointers for communication during a crisis that will help you reduce potential impact on your organisation. 

Two employees learning about crisis communications

What is Crisis Communication?

Simply put, crisis communication can be defined as the circulation of information needed to address a current crisis situation. Times of crisis can be stressful and unexpected, which is why it's important for every organisation to have a plan in place to be prepared for any scenario. 

Why is Crisis Communication Important? 

The way you respond to a crisis can either give you a much-needed image boost or significantly damage your brand. But what is the best strategy to avoid this? Nowadays it is easy for any news to go viral and therefore, you need to be effective and ready to respond using all available platforms.

During moments of threat, your organisation needs to connect with a variety of audiences effectively in real time. This means that your stakeholders, customers, service users, the media and others need to have the most up-to-date information as the crisis unfolds.

Ineffective communication during a time like this can result in a snowball effect. I.E. Your team, service users and stakeholders would feel frustrated and panic; resulting in a decline in morality.

So, what can you do? 

3 Ways to Prepare for Effective Crisis Communication 

1. Figure out the best crisis communication plan for your organisation

A crisis communication plan provides guidance and steps to support teams and clients. You can recognise how different crises form and manifest and identify the key communications channels and stakeholders. The plan should outline and explain how your organisation will communicate the crisis and handle the crisis.

Here's what to include:

  • Crisis communication team - roles and checklists
  • Key messages to key individuals - e.g. media, stakeholders 
  • Internal communications procedures
  • External communications - contacts and media list
  • Social media plan 
  • Appendices

You need to be consistent and prepared for the unexpected because when a crisis happens, you need to communicate it immediately; customers need to know how the impact such as local government officials will need to know what is happening within their community.

Remember, prepare for the most common crisis your organisation may face and overcome complications and challenges by applying a crisis communication plan.

2. Assign a spokesperson for times of crisis 

Everyone makes mistakes, even the big organisations with hundreds of employees. If your organisation is makes a mistake, the best thing to do is apologise and be human. A spokesperson can act as a face for the brand which will help your audience relate and understand that everything is under control.

Choose someone who has good communication skills, as their actions and words will be a heavy influence on how stakeholders and service users react. This could be a CEO, Head of or Senior Manager who visually and verbally demonstrates that the mistakes are solvable. 

If you want to give your communications team or spokesperson a refresh on effective communication skills, view our upcoming verbal communication courses to learn all you need to communicate effectively and efficiently. 

3.  Understand the difference between "feeling ready" and "being ready"

Talking about handling a crisis situation before it arrives is much easier than when the time actually comes. According to Deloitte, 76% of board members say their organisation would respond effectively to a crisis if it happened tomorrow, but only 49% of board members engage in monitoring internal communications to detect issues ahead.

Take advantage of crisis simulations or routine monitoring to stay on top of any internal issues that could cause crisis in the future. These simulations will help your team see how effective they would really be in a time of crisis. Update plans or strategies accordingly, carry out additional training if necessary and ensure staff are aware of their roles when a crisis occurs.

The best way to handle a crisis is to be prepared and able to think quickly and accurately. We've got some tips to help you effectively think on your feet when under pressure. Read here

3 Crisis Communication Steps to Follow When a Crisis Strikes

1. Quickly understand the nature of the crisis 

Your organisation could face a range of different emergencies, but think of it as something that would halt or stall the day-to-day workings of an organisation. Some common examples include technological failure, financial loss such as bankruptcy, employee changes like furlough or layoffs and natural crisis - e.g. the COVID-19 pandemic. 

If you're able to show service users and stakeholders that you understand the situation, where it's heading and how to deal with it before things spiral out of control, you'll see less panic and a greater understanding. 

To get started on this, the communication between you, your team or organisation needs to be strong. Here's how to improve communication skills in the workplace

2. Make your communication assessible for everyone

Although lots of people access news and information from their mobile phone, there's still a percentage of the population that rely on other forms to find out what's going on in the world. If you have a variety of ages in your audience, make sure you don't rely too heavily on social media to communicate with everyone. Use email, telephone calls or work with journalists to release statements explaining the situation.

Social media is a great way to respond quickly to complaints, but it's important to resolve or avoid those high levels of serious complaints. Lead the situation in a professional way, explain things clearly, admit fault if necessary, be proactive with communication and turn what some might call an "unsolvable disaster" into a solvable one. 

3. Make sure your message is accurate and targeted

When a crisis strikes, your organisation will be at the centre point of media and public attention. We understand there's some challenges to face when it comes to communicating the right message, such as too little information, too much information, no contact data or using wrong communication channels. But, think about your audience and align your external and internal messaging so employees, service users and key stakeholders are on the same page and have the right information they need to understand the situation and not panic.

The last thing your organisation should do is show a lack of preparedness, resulting in a vulnerability gap. So make sure your messages are clear, concise and understandable to all. 


Three Key Crisis Communication Takeaways

Although there isn’t a strategy that is a ‘one size fits all’ and each scenario needs a tailored approach, there are key points that should be highlighted: 

  1. Crises are time-sensitive and a quick response is crucial to avoid a snowball turning into an avalanche.
  2. A personal touch can be the key to engaging the empathetic feelings of your customers – speak to them like you would like someone to speak to you.
  3. Humility is vital and sometimes admitting you were in the wrong and that you are looking into fixing the issue can calm a situation.

Build a Successful Communications Strategy for Your Organisation

Effective communication isn't just needed when a crisis strikes, it's needed on a day-to-day basis to connect with your target audience and key stakeholders. Understand your audience and create a communications strategy on our Creating Effective Communications Strategies training course. View the full agenda here