10 tips for communicating in a crisis


Oct 06, 2016 • Paige Kauffman • Blog

Crisis Communications

Crises come in all shapes and sizes, and impact businesses across every industry. As you know from reading our latest blog series on crisis communications, there is no time like the present to prepare for unforeseeable crises. After all, it’s not if a crisis will strike, but when.

A crisis is an opportunity for your marketing communications to shine or fall short, both of which can shape your brand for years after the incident. Consider BP following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. Despite years separating us from the event and many brand-building initiatives, BP is often still associated with the spill. Alternatively, think about Southwest Airlines and its recent computer debacle. Southwest stuck to its crisis plan, responded quickly and effectively to its customers and, it appears, came out on the other side with its brand reputation still intact.

How you respond to a crisis depends on how well you and your team prepare for the unexpected.

To prepare today for tomorrow’s crisis, here are 10 tips from your team at Morningstar Communications:

  1. Plan in advance: We cannot stress enough the importance of having a crisis plan that augments your overall operational plan for managing potential crises. If you already have it, review it and once you’ve reviewed it, PRACTICE. Hold mock crisis drills, and make sure your employees know what to do when a crisis strikes.
  2. Engage your communications leader: Include your communications leaders in your response team. This ensures your brand is represented well from the start and everyone is on the same page.
  3. Determine roles: Who will communicate with your key stakeholders? Depending on the situation, the person responsible for employee communications may not be the best person to speak to the media.
  4. Define your key stakeholders: Who needs information from you and when? Recognize that some groups, such as your board, might need to be in the know sooner than others.
  5. Know which channels you’ll use to reach stakeholders: The rise of social media means communication happens instantly. Whether it’s face-to-face, phone, email, social media, etc., identify which channels you will use to communicate with the people who matter most to your organization.
  6. Craft preliminary messaging in advance: Brainstorm as many crisis situations as possible and craft key messages for your spokespeople to use when the time comes. By creating a library of scenario messaging that reflects your company’s values, you create the components of a baseline response you can revise and customize, which minimizes response times when the pressure is on.
  7. Identify the outcome you want to achieve: Crises don’t always lend themselves to control, but it’s key to have a pre-defined outcome in mind, so you stay focused on what’s important to your business.
  8. Conduct regular scenario planning: Efficient and effective responses to crises require you to practice potential scenarios with your entire team.
  9. Respond, review and adjust: Collect feedback from your employees, target audiences, etc. and apply it to your communications moving forward.
  10. Commit to accurate and transparent information: In short, never lie. For each potential scenario, have a statement you can use from the time the crisis strikes to when you have all the details at your deposal. If you don’t know what’s going on, don’t be afraid to use a positive non-statement like, “We are understandably concerned by this incident and are investigating it to uncover exactly what happened.”

Preparing for crises can save you immeasurable emotional and financial capital. Do yourself, your company and your stakeholders a favor and prepare today.

Want to learn more about planning for a crisis? Check out our crisis communications services and don’t hesitate to reach out directly.