16 August 2023

Crisis communications in business: 5 tips for navigating storms successfully

Claire Stephenson reflects on some of the recent public relations crises in the media. How can businesses be better prepared to weather emergencies through proper planning and strategic crisis communications?

With social media offering an instantaneous ability to share information – good and bad – crises are inevitable. Whether it’s a recalled product that is dangerous (currently, Home Bargains has placed a recall on a muscle-building product that has “potentially lethal” levels of caffeine in it), a public relations nightmare (think of the fallout over Huw Edwards), or a natural disaster impacting business operations, every organisation must be prepared to face challenges head-on. 

Top 5 tips

Effectively managing a crisis begins with a solid crisis communications strategy. Here are five key elements on how to prepare your communications for any kind of emergency.

  1. Proactive planning. Successful crisis communications begin long before a crisis actually happens. Proactive planning and risk assessment are essential to identify any potential vulnerabilities and help you to prepare for a range of scenarios. Conduct a thorough assessment of your business operations, supply chain, communication channels, and any potential risks. Create a crisis management team – including key stakeholders. Depending on the size of your organisation, this could include public relations specialists, a legal team, human resources, and operations management. Establish clear roles and responsibilities within your team to ensure any emergency is met with a strong and effective response.
  2. Timely communications. In the midst of a crisis, misinformation can spread rapidly – especially on social media – which can also make the situation worse. Make sure any response is swift and transparent. Acknowledge the issue as soon as possible, and furthermore be open about the facts. Hiding information or delaying communications will damage trust with your audience. Make sure all appropriate communication channels are used – this might be social media, press releases, or e-news – a dedicated crisis telephone line may also be required, depending on the severity of the issue.
  3. Compassionate communications. It’s important to recognise that some forms of crisis can bring a wide range of emotions, with individuals affected on personal levels. Demonstrating empathy and compassion in your communication can go a long way in diffusing tension and building stronger relationships with stakeholders. Show concern for those impacted by the crisis, whether it’s customers, employees, or communities. Offer support and solutions to address their needs and concerns. A genuine display of empathy can humanise your brand and encourage goodwill during challenging times.
  4. Consistent communications. When in a crisis situation, it’s important to maintain consistency in your messaging across all communication channels. Ensure that all team members and spokespeople are briefed on the key messages to be shared. Avoid any kind of contradicting statements or mixed signals that can lead to confusion and undermine credibility. A unified voice will convey a sense of stability and competence, reassuring stakeholders that the situation is under control.
  5. Post-crisis analysis. After the crisis has passed, it’s essential to conduct a thorough analysis and evaluation. Did any areas of communication work particularly well? What could be improved?  Obtain feedback from your stakeholders and use overall analysis to update and strengthen your crisis communications strategy. Remember, a crisis can provide valuable insights and also opportunities for growth and improvement.

Final thoughts

Crisis communications in business is not just simply about damage control: moreover it’s an opportunity to showcase your organisation’s values, integrity, and resilience. Further, by proactively planning, communicating transparently, showing empathy, and maintaining message consistency – along with learning from experiences, your business can effectively navigate through emergencies, safeguard your reputation, and become stronger for it. 

If you need any help in crafting a crisis communications strategy, please message us here or call 0845 625 0820 to see how we can help your organisation be known

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