What is Crisis Communication: Building an Effective Crisis Communication Strategy

Businesses across all industries and of different sizes are encountering issues and embracing crisis communication planning.

In fact, according to the Business Continuity Institute, 84% of organizations have an emergency communication plan in place, while 50% use at least three emergency communication processes.

Despite this, nearly 2/3rd of US organizations say they are unprepared for a crisis.

This implies that while organizations understand the importance of crisis communication, they are unsure of the proper steps to take.

So, you might ask yourself, “What exactly is a crisis communication strategy, and how do I implement an effective one?” Well, strap on your seatbelts because we’re about to dive right in.

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What is Crisis Communication?

Crisis Communication refers to the systems, protocols, and technologies that enable an organization to communicate effectively during a crisis or a threat to its business or reputation.

One must prepare businesses for potential crises, including extreme weather, cyber-attacks, crime, product recalls, reputation crises, corporate malfeasance, and PR incidents.

When organizations prepare for a crisis, they ensure that the relevant personnel can quickly and effectively communicate during moments of crisis. Crisis communication involves sharing information that allows the business to rectify the situation fast while protecting customers, assets, and employees and maintaining business continuity.

What are the Crisis Communication Scenarios?

Any scenario or situation can manifest as a business crisis warranting communication from the organization. Some of the common types of emergencies include:

  • A financial crisis in the form of store closures, bankruptcy, etc.
  • A personnel crisis means staff changes affecting operations or the organization's reputation. Employee furloughs, layoffs, or controversial behavior are among personnel crises.
  • The organizational crisis results from an apology, wrongdoing, or misconduct due to administrative practices.
  • The technological crisis arising from incidences such as outages causes reduced or lost functionality.
  • A natural crisis necessitates an announcement or change of procedure, such as defining safety precautions amid a health crisis.

Apart from these, anything that halts your business continuity should be perceived as a crisis that requires crisis communication with customers and the public.

The communication will vary depending on the crisis that is being dealt with.

What Are the 5 Pillars of Successful Crisis Communication?

For crisis communication to be successful, there are specific rules that the communicators should follow. These are the five pillars of effective crisis communication, as discussed here:

1. Simplicity

It would help if you kept your crisis communication simple and easy to understand for everyone. Simplicity and clarity are the most critical assets while communicating in times of crisis. Businesses must ensure a clear objective and that the message is relevant and tailored to the target audience.

2. Credibility

A crisis communication team must have credibility. You must always present evidence to support the statement. The audience should trust them, and the delivery should match the message.

3. Empathetic

It is crucial to show empathy during a crisis. Active listening and encouraging bottom-up feedback are effective ways of showing compassion to people going through a crisis. That is also a way of improving the online reputation of a business.

4. Competency

Highlighting an organization's competency becomes necessary in times of crisis and change. Crisis communicators must possess the knowledge, skills, resources, and people to follow through and get things done. It would be best to remind people that you are prepared to handle unprecedented situations.

5. Share-Worthy

Any crisis communication should be share-worthy and visual. When applicable, people should be encouraged to share the message internally and externally as part of your public relations strategy. Word-of-mouth helps spread the message to a wider audience.

9 Steps to Building an Effective Crisis Communication Strategy

Building an effective crisis communication strategy does not happen overnight. Communicators must consider the following steps in strategizing crisis communication:

Step #1: Create a Plan

Like other workplace strategies, crisis communication requires a well-set plan and objectives. Without this, the communication is less likely to follow the organizational rules and fail to align employees with the overall strategy.

The crisis communication plan should also identify the possible situations where such communication is needed.

Step #2: Appoint a Team and Spokesperson

Identifying and appointing the right people to the crisis communication team is crucial. It is necessary to understand that along with the CEO, people from other departments such as managers, HR professionals, and so on should be involved in the strategy.

The appointed spokesperson should be trained and experienced in handling emergencies, communicating well with the employees, and reacting promptly.

Step #3: Train Communicators in Developing Communication Skills

Same as for many other positions in the organizations, appropriate training and skill development are essential to help a crisis spokesperson succeed in their job.

Besides training available to crisis communication professionals, these people must have good communication skills.

Therefore, proper communication skills are the most valuable skills a spokesperson can possess as they significantly impact how to gain employees' attention, connect with employees, build trust in the workplace and make employees work towards the same goals.

Step #4: Involve the Board Members

Board members should be well aware of the company's crisis management strategy and be aligned with the rest of the leaders and crisis communicators.

However, research on crisis management by Deloitte proves that only 49% of board members have engaged with management to understand what has been done to support crisis preparedness. Only half say that board members and management have specific discussions about crisis prevention.

Step #5: Understand the Audiences

Like in any communication strategy, such as marketing communications, workplace crisis communicators need to have an excellent understanding of their audience.

In most situations, there will be multiple audiences a spokesperson would have to communicate and connect with. Therefore, properly segmenting those audiences and adjusting their approach and messages is crucial for successful crisis communication.

Also, depending on the type of crisis, not every employee may be the right audience to communicate with. In any situation, however, the message must be delivered on time and easily understood.

Timely communication is crucial because the worst thing that can happen is for your employees to hear about the crisis from a source different from their employer.

However, many employers still don't have the right communication tools to understand and manage their multigenerational workforce.

Step #6: Deliver Messages that Matter

Once you manage to represent your audiences, adjusting the internal crisis communication content is the next important step.

Remember that not every employee should receive every message during an emergency, as this approach slows down employees' response time by overwhelming them with irrelevant information.

Ideally, your internal communication solution should be able to target specific individuals and departments to ensure the most pertinent information gets to those who need it most.

Employers adopting these best crisis communication practices are more likely to equip people with important information, optimize employee experience, streamline emergency response, protect people, keep physical and digital assets safe, and minimize lost productivity and revenues.

Step #7: Implement a Two-Way Crisis Communication

It is crucial to understand that, during a crisis, employees are a valuable asset because they are the company's voice and can be your strongest advocates.

For that reason, crisis communication should not go one way. Crisis communication should enable employees to join the two-way conversations, raise their concerns and ask questions.

However, many employers base their crisis communication on employee newsletters and similar communication methods that don't enable employees to share their voices and thoughts.

Step #8: Use the Proper Communication Channels

In companies that communicate mainly through emails or even instant messaging apps, it is not uncommon for employees to miss out on important company updates. During the crisis, employers cannot afford this to happen.

Therefore, employers need to use the correct internal communication channels and PR campaigns to be considered their primary source of information during crisis times.

Step #9: Attend Your Non-Wired Employees

Emails can be inefficient in providing crisis communications to non-wired employees, remote employees, or employees who may be away from their desks. In addition, they are very ineffective during a power failure.

Therefore, the most effective way to communicate during an emergency or crisis is via mobile technology, which goes wherever your employees go.

What is Crisis Communication: Takeaways

Businesses have become more aware of crisis communication, and today, mobile crisis management apps enable employees to receive emergency notifications and engage in real-time communication.

Therefore, people at every level of an organization are equipped with the correct information. This streamlines emergency response, protects people, and prevents physical and digital productivity loss.

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