Communicating During a Crisis

Communication is the foundation of any organization’s success. And, as has been seen throughout history, it’s even more important during times of crisis. Many industries and companies stand to face uncertain or unexpected events in these times, which may directly or indirectly affect their reputation, image, or brand. These types of events could have lasting impacts on their bottom line and the retention of their respective human capital and talent. Therefore, if circumstances are not addressed immediately and strategically, the situation could escalate and create further disruption for the organization at large.

Therefore, in times of crisis, communicators on all levels should remember the basics.

When conveying information to any group—whether externally or internally— identifying the goal is the first step. Next, concretely pinpoint the audience and determine: what is the message to be expressed? Once a message is determined, a strategy can be planned. Outline the tone, messenger or speaker, and medium or communication channel. Lastly, but just as importantly, consider how results will be measured.

As social media plays an important role in all mass communications today, organizations must understand where they exist on social media platforms and how to best utilize these outlets to communicate. This means understanding the audience and stakeholders, and how/when to utilize these platforms to further disseminate a message.

Traditional media, as always, remains one of the most critical parts of communicating any organization’s message— and this is especially so during challenging times. When speaking directly to members of the media, messengers must be calm, speak with authority, be aware of appropriate emotional responses, and choose their words carefully. Accordingly, because the landscape during crises changes frequently, speakers should understand when it is important to “make” news rather than simply comment on it. Another critical component of this is understanding when it becomes essential to transition from earned media to paid advertising, which can further help influence audiences.

It follows that reporters want to glean solid stories without conducting major research, especially with short-staffed newsrooms. Therefore, conveying background information with clear and direct quotes when appropriate is helpful. Sixty percent of people only read article headlines and scan key visuals. Consequently, aiding in crafting this content for the media can be effective.  Providing short sound bites that can be easily read via press releases or spoken via interviews is another tool that is beneficial to both the speaker and the reporter.

And, never forget: Always assume that every microphone is live, especially during times of crisis.  Key leaders should always refrain from making misguided remarks in public. Listening ears are everywhere, and incorrect messages can easily and quickly be matriculated on social media. Hence, never improvise— even if “off-the-record.”

Plan. Know your message. Follow your strategy. Stay on script. And, continue to practice the basics of communication.