5 Tips and Tricks for Navigating Crisis Communications

Is your organization ready to weather a crisis? Recently, our President and Founder Paula Worthington delivered a crisis communications workshop to members of EO Calgary. Entrepreneurial businesses need to juggle a lot of priorities, and having a crisis communications plan may not be at the top of the list – until now! Is your team, brand and reputation ready to handle a crisis should one occur? 

In 2019, only 40% of Canadian businesses reported having a crisis communications plan. With a number like that, you may think that most organizations don’t think a crisis plan is necessary. However, of American business leaders who have activated their crisis comms plan, 98% said it was effective when it came to managing the crisis situation. 

What is a crisis and how does it differ from an issue you or your organization might face? First, an issue is something you can proactively manage and it doesn’t typically have a solid start or end date. However, a crisis will. 

Think of an issue as steering a ship through difficult waters. A crisis, however, is more like trying to save the ship after it has hit an iceberg. 

As you look to put together your crisis plan, what are some things to look out for or include in your plan? Here are five things to consider in a crisis situation: 

  1. Form your trusted team: A true crisis cannot be handled with a business as usual approach. Your whole team won’t necessarily be at the centre of involvement in dealing with the crisis head on, but you will need a trusted team to help you navigate the storm. 
  2. Focus on the process (which you can control), not outcomes (which you can’t control): It can be tempting to reassure everyone, say the crisis will end and provide goals or outcomes to achieve. However, you don’t have full control of the outcome of a crisis, particularly when it is just starting to emerge. You can guarantee the steps or process you will take, but you cannot guarantee a particular outcome. In fact, guaranteeing an outcome will paint you into a corner if the crisis evolves and you can no longer deliver. It can quickly deteriorate trust in the middle of an already difficult situation. Consider implementing a “here’s what we did, what we’re doing, what we will do next” approach when communicating during a crisis. Each time you communicate, remind people of the actions you have taken, what’s happening now, and what you will do next. Keep your language straightforward and easy to understand.
  3. Don’t apologize if you’re not certain you’re at fault: It can be tempting during a crisis to quickly apologize in the hopes of it just going away. However, that may not be the best path, especially if the blame is not yours to take. That said, always show empathy and compassion for those who have been affected by the crisis. 
  4. Simplify your messaging: In normal times, communicating at about a 10th grade level in the materials you produce is adequate. In a crisis, especially a natural disaster or an event with loss of life or injuries, people in the middle of the crisis or emergency won’t be able to retain the same amount of information. Crisis writing and messaging should be delivered at around a sixth grade level in order to be most effective. 
  5. Key messaging is your North star: Develop strong and consistent key messaging for your spokesperson to use. This messaging should lean into your corporate values. You will likely have to answer difficult or unanticipated questions from media or the public. Your spokesperson and anyone public facing can use pivoting and bridging techniques to get back on message and ensure you provide consistent messaging. Ensure your spokespeople are media trained.

No one wants to go through a crisis in their business, but there is comfort in knowing that you and your business or organization are prepared to protect your brand and reputation. Investing today to develop a strategy for tomorrow can put anxieties to rest. 

Worthington PR & Story and Noble Arrow are equipped to help you develop your plan and train your team to respond to media, both in good times and in bad. For more information contact Paula Worthington at paula@worthingtonpr.com


Start typing and press Enter to search