Part 2: Crisis comms tips – be kind and calm

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Part 1 covered the following crisis comms tips;

  • Don’t rush a response – set a realistic expectation,
  • Define (narrow) discussion parameters and
  • Establish a process with a comms leader.

Here are my next four and it struck me that already there are some common themes and lots of common sense. And that’s the thing; most comms is common sense.

But the trouble with comms in a crisis is the crisis – because we panic in a crisis and then we make mistakes. Yet once you know this, you can get back to control and common sense.

So, you’ve got this.

You can’t be too kind

That’s it really. Make sure your statements answer the questions or fears of your audience but don’t forget the kindness. People are scared and, while you might be writing with details of their next electricity bill or an update to the Cloud storage policy, it’s ok to acknowledge that this is an extremely difficult, confusing and emotional time. People’s lizard brains are in overdrive and until they can switch that off, they won’t hear anything else you’ve got to say.

Don’t do definite

This is a pandemic the scale of which the world has never seen before, certainly not in living memory. So, we just don’t know how it’s going to play out. As such, try to quantify statements or time limit commitments because, with the best will in the world, you may have to change your stance. Your audience is reasonable but likely to be more emotional and fearful than normal so reflect that in how you position news.

Empower the comms leader with enough senior time to agree messaging and key responses

In Part 1, I recommended establishing a comms leader as a single point of knowledge, control and expertise. However, when a crisis hits it’s very normal for team leaders to want to be with their teams. Yet if that comms leader can’t get key stakeholders into a single discussion, to thrash out what we can, want and should say, they can’t fulfill that role. Not only can this lead to a low-quality response, it’s a false economy because the longer the experts stay with their teams, the longer it takes to ease the pressure on those teams with a set of core FAQs, which respond to the most common or potentially damaging queries.

Finalising those FAQs will require those Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), who are often also department heads, to allocate time to the comms process. Ideally, those experts come together in a single, virtual meeting so that different opinions or concerns can be aired in an efficient way.

Balance your heart with your head

It’s unlikely that you can afford to cease charging for your product or service, promise continued employment or predict what your business will look like a year from now. So, don’t.

Equally, if you don’t acknowledge the challenging situation that your clients, employees or suppliers are going through you’ll do lasting damage to your brand.

Again, it might help to think of or role play with different audience type personas to test how responses land. This also gives you the opportunity to discover, and correct if required, any unexpected conclusions that your audiences draws from your messaging.

I hope some of these tips are helpful and calming if you’re currently managing a comms crisis. If you have specific questions or a need for advice, please email me at [email protected].

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