Characteristics of crisis communication

April 21, 2022

Strategic communication in times of crisis is crucial, as stakeholders seek reassurance that the company is taking their interests into account during such a phase. If you do not manage the crisis well enough or underestimate its consequences, the organization will come to a complex situation to fight for trust in dialogue with all stakeholders. The outcomes can range from unpleasant to costly to catastrophic for the entire company. Let us first clarify

what is meant by a crisis:

A crisis is an event that occurs suddenly and usually unexpectedly. It requires a rapid response and, if mismanaged, can lead to lost profits, litigation, lost business, reduced employee motivation, damaged public reputation, reduced competitiveness… or all of the above. Crises range from natural disasters to financial to medical emergencies, including fires, chemical exposures and multi-casualty accidents. Another examples of crises can contain workplace violence, fraud and asset misappropriation. An effective communication must provide timely and unambiguous knowledge to make the right decisions.

According to a Deloitte survey, 47% of employers believe they have the skills and processes they would need to manage a crisis. In addition, less than half of all respondents said they have a “playbook” of options, actions and solutions for specifically defined crisis scenarios.

Here are some features of good crisis communications :

# Crisis response involves significant stress. Companies must act quickly to resolve issues without making the situation worse. Therefore, it pays to have an escalation framework in place.

Step 1: Alert – Notify all team members as soon as possible. Establish specific communication channels for this process in advance.

Step 2: Assessment – Evaluate the severity of the issue and the potential comeback. The key questions you should ask are: What happened? Where and when? Who was affected and involved? How much do we know?

Step 3: Activate – Once the initial assessment is complete, activate the appropriate team members and their departments to start the crisis management process. Initial steps may include calling a general gathering, responding to immediate media inquiries, or drafting communication to affected stakeholders. Coordination at this stage is critical.

Step 4: Monitoring – Crisis communications can last from a few days to several weeks or months. In this time, it is crucial to monitor what happens and what has changed to ensure communication is managed effectively and information is perceived without misinterpretation.

Step 5: Analyze – Once the worst part of the crisis is over, you should discuss with your team how the crisis has been handled, what the consequences were, and how to improve the overall communication situation. It is beneficial to evaluate the team’s performance and make appropriate suggestions for improvement if critical situations happen again. A good idea is to continue monitoring for at least some time after the crisis.

# Keep crisis communication simple and easy to understand for everyone. Simplicity is the best partner at this moment. Make sure your statement conveys a clear message and tailor it to the target audience. 

# Make the message credible. Provide evidence and arguments to support the statements. Details increase credibility and create more confidence in the audience.

# Critical is to show empathy. The best way to express it is direct to the people affected by the crisis – by active listening and encouraging feedback. In doing so, it is crucial to send the right signals and distinguish between empathy and accepting responsibility or blame for actions beyond the organization’s control. 

# In times of crisis and change, it is also essential to focus on the organization’s competence. Does your organization have the skills, knowledge, resources and leadership to deal with unprecedented situations? If so, remind the people.

# Crisis communication should be very illustrative and shareable. Word of mouth will help you spread your message and reach a larger audience. Encourage people to share your message.

When a crisis occurs, communication is one of the first steps. Companies need to create reaction plans that prioritize clear and transparent communication with open and direct information while maintaining employee and customer confidentiality. Companies need dedicated teams to help them along the way, expanding existing competencies and helping build and maintain trust. Experience in though moments can be beneficial in different ways – crisis communication expertise, team and process management skills, and emotional balance when needed. If scenarios are not just edveloped but also coached, better preparation can make the difference to determine the future of the entire organization.

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