The Importance of Crisis Communications During Uncertain Times
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Communication is key. Whether it is in the public or the private sector, the way messages are conveyed can play a major role in the behaviour of stakeholders. A stakeholder can be divided into two categories, internal and external. An internal stakeholder is someone that is part of the company, such an employee, whereas an external stakeholder is someone outside of the company, like a customer or investor.
Businesses and governments create communication strategies with stakeholders in mind to advance their objectives, but what happens when things don't go as planned?
What is Crisis Management?
This is where crisis communications comes in. Crisis communications is how a company or individual responds during an event that could have a negative impact. Key considerations in reputation management include things like stakeholder opinions, financial impact, or public safety.
When a company or organization is experiencing a crisis, the stakes are high. Communications or public relations professionals with extensive experience and skills in this area are essential resources for leaders that require crisis management.
According to PwC’s Global Crisis Survey in 2019, 69 percent of business leaders have experienced a crisis in the last five years. Proof that crisis preparedness is critical for all CEOs and strategic planning is necessary for managing and mitigating issues.
Additionally, a study conducted by Deloitte found that 62 percent of board members surveyed felt confident about their crisis management strategies. Despite the fact that more than half of the companies that responded felt prepared, the same study indicated some sectors and industries, such as media and telecommunications, were less prepared than others.
COVID-19 Crisis Management
With COVID-19 being an unprecedented event, the pandemic has forced corporations to respond. According to McGill University, professional communicators faced a difficult challenge in addressing stakeholders as some had a reliance on using pre-written templates whenever a crisis was on the rise. The challenge is the messages can sound robotic and inauthentic. In a study by Stackla, it found that 90 percent of consumers consider authenticity to be important, and communicators should be mindful of this and its impact on stakeholder perceptions.
But just as the PwC and Deloitte studies suggest, companies and organizations can never anticipate what crisis they could face next. This is why it is important to be prepared and to have crisis communications strategies and experts in place. The purpose is to not only protect a corporation’s reputation but to make it right and be honest, empathetic and proactive in your response.
How To Communicate In a Crisis, Effective Crisis Communications Management
Ultimately, crisis communications can be utilized to protect a company or an individual. But what elements are required for maximum effectiveness?
In the wake of COVID-19, Mckinsey and Company released a guideline that explains how leaders can communicate with stakeholders during these uncertain times. Here are some considerations to follow when deploying crisis communications messaging.
1) Build Trust with Transparency
With the abundance of information circulating around the web regarding COVID-19, many individuals are feeling overwhelmed with what source of information they can truly rely on. Companies should avoid contributing to the “noise,” meaning information that does not add value for your stakeholders. Transparency and concise, clear messaging can build trust between your organization and your stakeholders.
For instance, during the shift from working in the office to working from home, employee communications became more important than ever. While communicating during a stressful time, employees may feel worried and anxious due to the uncertainty surrounding them. As a company, you want to communicate clearly about this crisis and what they could expect in order to avoid confusion and anger. Communicating about your company and its plans during uncertainty can be difficult, but being vague or silent will only make matters worse.
2) Communicate with Positivity and Consistency
Stakeholder communications is challenging, but necessary during a crisis. While it is important to always address the issue at hand immediately, crisis messaging should be carefully chosen to deescalate the situation and create the sense that the situation is being effectively managed. Given the fact that COVID-19 has affected everyone globally, companies have an obligation to communicate with stakeholders as a way to reassure and support business continuity.
For example, government officials around the world had to address the dangers of COVID-19 and how it could impact society. The departments of health in affected countries warned about the severity of COVID-19, but these messages did not just dwell on the possible dangers and risks, but was reinforced with positive messaging focused on the resilience of citizens and their ability to handle this pandemic. This is important because leaving stakeholders with just negative news can be detrimental.
3) Be Honest and Do Not Sugar-Coat
While this may be related to being transparent, it needs to be emphasized that being transparent also means being honest. Honesty is important while communicating a crisis, and through honesty, your organization or company spokesperson is able reveal a more personable and vulnerable side that assists in building trust. But, when communicating during a crisis, the focus should be on the given issue and what steps will be taken to address it. It should not downplay the severity.
In a realistic example, the COVID-19 pandemic affected many businesses economically, which resulted in layoffs and furloughs. In this scenario, companies have to be honest about this reality, and attempting to sugar-coat or refusal to acknowledge the severity may only cause frustration among stakeholders. Communicate with empathy and honesty.
How Bulletproof Can Help
Bulletproof is a communications agency that provides training services to help individuals and organizations communicate more effectively. Our team consists of strategists, trainers and journalists who understand the media and the importance of public relations and communications that help achieve objectives.
Bulletproof media training is led by Tara McCarthy who has over 20 years of experience in building reputations and is an expert in strategic communications and crisis management. Our team can train you or your company in communication techniques that advance objectives.
If you or your company needs assistance in crafting a crisis communications plan, please do not hesitate to contact us, we can assist you in developing communications strategies, message and presentation training -- and much more.