Home Blog How to communicate successfully in a crisis

Here, Karol Marketing’s Head of Corporate and Crisis Communications, Victoria Ross shares some introductory principles on how to communicate in a crisis

Few will have failed to spot the headlines concerning the recent tragic events surrounding Pret A Manger. However, the food chain’s handling of recent events, in particular its statement following emergence of the news that a second person has died from a suspected allergic reaction to food bought in one of its stores, has left many in the communications industry asking questions of Pret’s response and whether an apparent lack of empathy could cause irreparable damage for the company.

So what are the principles for success when communicating in a crisis?

Know the three C’s of crisis communications – Communicating in a crisis situation will always feel daunting – due to its very nature, you’re unlikely to know all of the facts for some time and you will probably never know as much as you would like. The natural reaction of many businesses is to say nothing or wait for more answers, and whilst this is understandable, in an age of 24/7 news and social media, we don’t have the opportunity to spend hours carefully crafting and honing key messages. So, even when detail is scarce, remembering the three C’s of crisis communications can be invaluable:

  • Concern for those affected and the impact of the crisis – putting people at the start of your response, and demonstrating you understand the severity of what has happened
  • Control over the situation – explaining what you are doing to remedy the situation, who you are working with – for example the emergency services – and the resources you are putting in place to support efforts will demonstrate control over the situation in hand
  • Commitment – to doing everything you can and ensuring that the issue will not happen again

Have a plan – By its very nature a crisis is unanticipated and it would be impractical to plan a crisis response for every scenario. But ensuring you have an agreed way of working helps you to activate your response in a timely manner should a crisis occur.

The crucial thing to remember when developing a crisis communications plan, is that it is impossible to predict every possible scenario. So often communications teams will develop crisis communications plans that contain numerous pre-prepared statements for very specific scenarios. But you can guarantee that when a crisis hits, it won’t be one you anticipated.

A good crisis communications plan doesn’t need to be long – in fact often the shorter and more user friendly they are the better – but it must include key policies and processes. Checklists of actions to take in the initial stages of a crisis can be particularly useful and help ensure key steps are taken. The plan should include clear roles and responsibilities, and these should be allocated with deputies assigned so individuals can familiarise themselves with their responsibilities and what will be expected of them ahead of time. Template communication statements that can be adapted to work in a variety of scenarios can save valuable time, and login details or information on who to contact to update your company website and social media channels are also key assets when in a crisis situation.

Identify your spokespeople ahead of time – Crisis management and crisis communications are just like any other strategic management discipline – they’re skills you need to develop and practice. Essentially, your crisis team needs to be able to get to know their roles and test their response in a ‘safe space’. This can be through coaching and taking part in regular crisis exercises and simulations, helping to ensure that the response becomes almost second nature. This is as true for your CEO as it is for your social media manager or HR lead.

As with any media opportunity, identifying someone who can communicate clearly and confidently is vital, but a crisis spokesperson also needs to convey both empathy and sincerity whilst occupying a senior enough position to demonstrate that the organisation is taking the situation seriously. This is usually a CEO or MD but for a variety of reasons it may not be and you need to think carefully about the roles your organisation’s senior team will play in your crisis response procedures and what this will mean practically for their availability. The important thing is to ensure that as part of your crisis planning, you have identified a team of potential spokespeople that you are confident could communicate compassionately and knowledgably and that you have provided each individual with the opportunity to practice and develop key skills ahead of time.

Karol Marketing’s crisis team has a proven track-record of working with some of the world’s biggest and best-known companies to help them prepare for and manage threats to their reputation and can deliver a range of crisis management and media training for senior and board level clients, including full-scale simulations, crisis media training and crisis HR training.


To discuss your crisis preparedness or find out more about how Karol can help you assess, strengthen and validate your crisis management and crisis communications procedures please contact Victoria Ross or Stefan Lepkowski on 0191 2657765 or Victoria@karolmarketing.com / Stefan@karolmarketing.com