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How to approach crisis communications

A business or brand is often judged on its communication of a crisis rather than the crisis itself. In our current uncertain and challenging times, how a business responds can have untold impact on long-term relationships. Communicating accurately, transparently and timely information means that a business is seen to be acting in an authentic and responsible manner.

The impact of not handling crisis communications effectively may result negatively on the reputation of a business, its people, or its stakeholders. Crisis situations can have a significant impact on share price and the confidence of customers, prospects, employees, investors, and the government.


Advance work minimises longer-term damage. Crisis preparedness pre-crisis, can involve the following steps:

  • Horizon planning or vulnerability audit – a risk assessment to identify current and potential areas of operational weakness and system flaws that could lead to, or exacerbate, crises.
  • Identification of CMT (crisis management team) – which needs to include as a core group; CEO, corporate HSSE, sales & supply, legal and head of communications. For a business with multiple sites, a designated emergency response lead will need to be identified. All core members should have designated backfills.
  • Develop a crisis manual – a document which aims to equip a business and all employees with the tools and processes to effectively communicate any crisis. This needs to include:
    • Activation plan and channels of communication (internal)
    • Severity assessment (internal)
    • Who does what within the CMT, including a checklist (internal)
    • Media handling, media responses and monitoring process (external)
  • Continuity planning – a process to ensure a business is able to continue running with no significant impact to employees and customers. The guiding principles for this document needs to People, Technology and Communications
  • Training – ensuring that in the event of a crisis, all employees are aware of who to pass media enquiries to. Ideally, media comments and interviews should come either direct from the leadership team, the head of communications or the designated comms agency. Speed carries out preparedness training for spokespeople, including live simulation of broadcast media interviews
  • Revisit all of the above – at least every 12-months or after any crisis scenario when then the procedure has been followed.

A note on social media:

Social media adds a huge complexity to crisis communications. It is a primary resource for journalists and stakeholders, but it is also a leaky bucket if used without much thought. It can also appear abrupt and faceless if this is the only means to comms in a crisis. Social ideally needs to be treated as a separate channel with a specific plan in a crisis manual.

Types of crisis and types of response

These are the five types of crises a business could potentially face:

  1. Financial Crisis
  2. Personnel Crisis
  3. Organisational Crisis
  4. Technological Crisis
  5. Force Majeure Crisis

And these are three main routes to response:

  1. Responsive Crisis Management – executing a crisis response plan based on likely scenarios. This includes communicating with stakeholders, informing employees, and creating adaptive solutions. Responsive crisis management is most likely in a financial or personnel crisis
  2. Proactive Crisis Management – anticipating and monitoring for potential crisis. While not all crises can be prevented or planned for, actively monitoring for threats can help reduce the impact of a potential crisis. Proactive crisis management is typical in a technological and organisational crisis
  3. Recovery Crisis Management – effective response to unknown and unexpected threats. In these scenarios, a business may not be able to lessen the impact, but you can begin to salvage what’s left of the situation. Likely in a force majeure crisis

In summary

Ensuring your business is prepared for any number of possible crises will allow you to minimise reputational risk and continue to communicate responsibly with anyone that engages with a business.

By looking at the advance work that can be undertaken; development of a crisis management plan, and considering the types and stages of a crisis, you’ll enable your business from long-lasting and potentially damaging repercussions.

Tags: Covid-19Crisis Communications