Communication is foundational to crisis management. It provides clarity and direction for employees, customers and partners in an otherwise uncertain and confusing time. The key role of strategic communication during a crisis is to stabilize and advance the organization by inspiring confidence, earning trust and engaging stakeholders. Clear, consistent communication is vital to successfully maintain business continuity and recover.
Organizations can leverage the power of communication to successfully emerge from a crisis. Beehive’s business continuity and communication roadmap (Ready, Respond, Recover and Restore) helps leaders effectively use strategic communication in crisis management to lead through the uncertainty of a crisis and towards a successful future.
The role of strategic communication in the Ready phase is to lay the groundwork necessary for organizations to respond effectively and sustain trust. This phase happens before a crisis when a company proactively identifies high-likelihood crisis scenarios and develops plans for managing them. How well an organization prepares its crisis communication strategies impacts how well it can navigate an actual crisis.
The crisis management plan created during this phase should define the dedicated response teams with clear roles and effective communication responsibilities. It should include an internal and external stakeholder inventory with each audience’s preferred communication channels. Creating templated communication materials for these channels allows organizations to quickly customize and deploy communications if a crisis strikes. Leaders should receive coaching for communication skills during this phase to learn how to respond clearly, authentically and transparently to future crises.
Organizations move to the Respond phase of crisis management when a crisis strikes. The role of strategic communication during this phase is to provide timely, credible information that keeps stakeholders informed. Communication also serves as a tool for building trust. Organizations that share authentic, transparent and consistent messages are more likely to gain trust, maintain their brand perception and retain loyal customers, employees and partners.
Strategic communication in a crisis creates a connection between businesses and their stakeholders. Organizations that use a feedback loop during crisis management can better understand how their key audiences are feeling and demonstrate empathy for what they’re experiencing. Acting with empathy and delivering simple and factual information across various channels helps organizations dispel confusion and worry. Taking control of the crisis narrative and meeting stakeholders where they’re at helps businesses stabilize and manage the immediate crisis.
Businesses enter the Recover phase when they start to experience stability. Use strategic communication during this phase to assess new opportunities and provide clarity to stakeholders on how the future might look. Even if it starts to feel repetitive, proactive and consistent communication is vital during this phase because stakeholders may still feel uncertain, even as the organization begins to stabilize and recover. Leaders can use communication to define and articulate the company’s future vision while keeping people informed about the company’s improved stability.
Internal messages during this phase might focus on motivating employees to think and act differently because of the crisis. Externally, the company may still address the crisis but start preparing customers for what the future holds. Learn where stakeholders are at and how their expectations have changed by leveraging monitoring and listening tools and engaging stakeholders in two-way communication. These insights help the organization identify what adjustments might be necessary as the business recovers. Change is common during this phase, and incorporating change management communication strategies into the business plan can help effectively propel the organization forward.
The role of strategic communication in the Restore phase is to move the business forward with confidence for sustained growth. It’s an opportunity for an organization to re-align its communication to its purpose, mission and values and provide rationale for any changes made as a result of the crisis. This communication helps the company establish meaningful connections with stakeholders that will positively differentiate its brand and culture.
Organizations in the Restore phase begin shifting messages from crisis-focused to future-focused. Leaders play a critical communication role during this phase by inspiring and motivating employees. It’s also an important time to express gratitude to internal and external stakeholders who supported the business through the crisis.
Organizations that use communication effectively during a crisis to authentically connect with stakeholders have the best opportunity for long-term success. Companies build trust when they communicate with authenticity, transparency and clarity. People who trust organizations are more likely to support and advocate for the brand. Strategic communication in a crisis gives organizations the confidence to advance business plans and re-enter the market to serve their stakeholders in meaningful ways.
About Ayme Zemke, SVP, Client Service
Ayme Zemke leads client service at Beehive Strategic Communication and is a certified crisis communication leader. She has more than 20 years of strategic communication experience and has helped many organizations prepare for and respond to crisis situations in a way that sustains trust and supports business continuity. Ayme’s ability to understand people’s needs and make meaningful connections helps her move businesses forward with purpose. She often speaks and writes about crisis communication, serves on the Minnesota PRSA Board of Directors and has been recognized by PR News as a Top PR Professional and PR Team Leader.