According to the Institute for Crisis Management (ICM), only about 14% of all crises are unpredictable. This means that at least 86% of the situations we face can be expected and prepared for. This is why a crisis communication and crisis management strategy is vital for every business. 

Communication expert Timothy Coombs points out that it’s not hard to recognize a crisis. It typically involves a threat to your reputation with an element of surprise and a short window in which to take decisive action. 

Roughly 35% of these cases happen online, and no organization is immune to them online or offline. In fact, since 2007, the number of headline-making crises has jumped 80%

Thanks to the internet, executives can no longer “wait and see” when a crisis strikes. The 24-hour news cycle underscores the importance and significance of crisis communication strategies. 

What is Crisis Communication?

First, let’s discuss what defines a crisis. The ICM states that it is “any disruption that can trigger negative stakeholder reactions that impact the organization’s reputation, business and financial strength.” 

These problems can be internal or external; today’s focus will be on internal crises. Crisis communication refers to the protocols in place that allow organizations to effectively disseminate information during a time of threat.

Why is Crisis Communication Important?

The motto for crisis communication management is, “It’s better to prepare and prevent than repair and repent.” 

The fulcrum of effective crisis management is preparation, which translates to a well-established crisis communication strategy. 

Having a detailed crisis communication strategy well before you need it can save a lot of headaches and embarrassment when there is looming pressure. In addition, moving swiftly can often minimize damage, prevent a potential problem and improve a company’s reputation or reduce losses during an emergency. 

Why Develop a Crisis Plan Before You Actually Need It?

1. Because you need time to consider all angles.

Every problem requires different solutions, and you need to be able to calmly examine all courses of action. When the threat is imminent, people make impulsive choices that can cause more damage than the original problem, so you need to make a plan ahead of time to eliminate the emotional, “knee-jerk” responses. This allows you to take confident steps toward resolution.

You should have a prepared Q&A list with the most crucial questions about the company as well as a list of potential crisis situations that may arise with details about how to handle each.

2. Because rumors spread like wildfire, leaving little time to react.

As soon as a crisis breaks, rumors and misinformation spread alarmingly fast and can quickly get out of control, as seen with the situation with CNN, California’s Office of Emergency Services (OES) and Elon Musk. 

Musk donated 1,000 ventilators to California hospitals during peak coronavirus numbers, but the OES mistakenly claimed they were never received, and CNN ran with this rumor. Even after the rumors were refuted, no apologies were ever issued. Instead, the story was simply retracted and swept under the rug, but the reputation damage was substantial.

The role of communication in crisis management is to consistently clarify facts and refute misinformation by reacting quickly, according to the agreed-upon plan.

3. Gathering a crisis team takes time, which you don’t have in the midst of an emergency.

Finding and training the best people for each job takes time, so it must be done before disaster strikes. Crisis communication and crisis management should be developed based on specific individuals, and each member of the team should understand their role perfectly. 

The minimum crisis team should consist of: 

  • The team leader
  • A speaker
  • A media liaison 
  • A person to monitor and respond to social media

4. Most disasters happen online, so you need to be ready at a moment’s notice.

An established, comprehensive social media policy makes it possible to communicate faster and more confidently. It also allows you to choose which channel will be the official one for easier dissemination of information (e.g., the company website is the official channel and is linked on all social media platforms). Since so many PR disasters spin out of control online, it’s essential to have 24/7/365 monitoring of digital channels so that any negativity can be effectively worked out. 

The 2021 Twitter spat between Amazon and American politicians is a prime example of this. What began as an ill-conceived “snark tweet” from an Amazon executive became a full-blown mudslinging back-and-forth that culminated in Amazon workers quoting a tweet about poor working conditions over 9,000 times in 24 hours. It took Amazon a full week to issue a statement, but it was too little too late.

5. Crisis preparedness costs less than in-the-moment damage control.

Writing a crisis communication strategy can prevent the loss of millions or even billions in profits, reputation and shareholder value. 

Once you have a strategy worked out, the company is less likely to suffer due to incorrect statements or slow reaction times. In fact, a trained media speaker can prevent 90% of situations from developing into full-blown crises.

5 Steps For Effectively Managing a Crisis 

Now that you know the importance of swift, transparent communication in crisis management, here are five steps for effectively handling a crisis.

1. Mobilize your crisis team.

Developing and training a crisis team beforehand means you can swiftly and confidently gather everyone and deploy them to their dedicated tasks as soon as the situation begins. Having a calm, organized and prepared crisis team waiting in the wings is the most important aspect of effective crisis management.

2. Organize an immediate official response.

As soon as the crisis hits, organize an emergency press briefing within 1-2 hours to give your official reaction to the situation. This allows you to take control of the narrative quickly and decisively. Broadcast the briefing on your corporate website and social media channels.

3. Connect to the company’s help desk platform.

As a part of your centralized communications, establish a direct link with your company’s help desk. This allows you to aggregate all incoming messages across communication channels into a single location. From there, you can parse the communications and react instantly and effectively. 

Platforms like Zendesk, Help Scout, Freshdesk and Gladly are all useful and easy to use, so it’s recommended to set one up and test it with your teams, even without a looming crisis.

4. Remember your partners.

It’s crucial to remember that clients and media outlets are not your only audience. Shareholders, sponsors, partners and franchisees will all be anxiously following the situation and seeking out any information they can find. 

Proactively reach out to these people via an email, newsletter or scheduled conference call rather than waiting for them to get spooked and distance themselves from your brand. This can be done through preemptive appointments or via a single statement that encompasses everyone. 

Additionally, remember that you need to stay in regular contact with these people until the crisis is solved.

5. Mentally prepare for the long days of work ahead until the situation is resolved.

It’s best to come to terms with the idea that you will likely be working round-the-clock with no days off through the worst of the crisis. This is an inevitable part of the job, so any physical or mental preparations you can make ahead of time will help you perform better in the midst of the situation. 

You should also be ready to “roll up your sleeves” and personally take part in any of the post-crisis cleanup operations.