What is crisis communication and why is it important?

Crisis communication is a vital aspect of public relations. Inevitably, all organizations will face a major issue at some point. This issue may be potentially damaging the brand’s reputation. In today’s connected world, where information spreads at lightning speed, an emergency communications plan is no longer ‘nice to have’ but essential when things go wrong. Unprepared organizations may suffer financial, operational, and reputational losses. Here, we look at what is crisis communications and ​​give a crisis communications definition.

published: November 10, 2022
updated: March 22, 2024

What is crisis communication?

So, what is crisis communication in public relations?

In short, it is the communication process used to respond to a threat to an organization's reputation. The crisis plan is used when there has been a major event.

Preparing for a crisis makes it easier for the team assigned to handle it. This helps to protect customers, employees, and the organization's assets and continue business operations until the problem passes.

Crisis communication definition

Wikipedia defines it as:

"designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation. Crisis communication is aimed at raising awareness of a specific type of threat, the magnitude, outcomes, and specific behaviors to adopt to reduce the threat".

Another helpful definition comes from Hubspot:

"Crisis communication is a communication strategy that enables an organization to protect its reputation when a crisis or business disruption strikes."

Hopefully, this helps lay out a crisis communication meaning.

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What is a crisis?

A crisis definition is any unexpected event that could adversely impact a business.

The crisis could relate to any part of the business, including finances, reputation, staff, or internal or external stakeholders. It includes the following:

Image explaining what a PR crisis is
1

Product recalls

This is when manufacturers, customers, or consumer watch groups find product defects that could hinder performance, harm consumers, and result in legal problems.

2

Customer incidents

This refers to a negative interaction between your business and a customer, such as personal damage or injury to the customer, product quality issues, or a bad customer service experience. All of which could cause harm to the company and financial loss through lost custom or pecuniary damages.

3

Security threats

This could be a physical threat to the company or its employees or a threat to a company’s data and other information that it keeps. A violation of company security policies and theft are included.

4

Environmental issues

There is significant financial damage when an event such as a fire, explosion, chemical release, or natural disaster occurs. Also, if your company participates in environmentally harmful practices such as using non-sustainable materials - especially if your business reputation relies on being seen as the opposite, then reputational damage can occur.

Who needs crisis communication?

No matter how big or small or whatever the industry, every company needs to have crisis communication strategies in place. The increase in online review websites and social media has hastened the need for companies to respond confidently and quickly to threats and get back on track.

The purpose of crisis communication is to connect the various internal stakeholders of a company with one another. These include general employees, department heads, security, leadership, and the PR team.

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Why is crisis communication so important for business?

No business is immune to a crisis. You need to be in control to handle any public scrutiny that may follow effectively. To minimize any serious damage after the public become aware, it is crucial to be open with all stakeholders, including the media. Crisis communication is an important tool within public relations to reduce reputational and financial damage.

Clear communication channels and procedures must be in place to provide employees with the relevant knowledge to make correct decisions during crises. You can limit the impact on your brand and company by communicating quickly and accurately during and after the crisis. This is to give the greatest chance of avoiding permanent brand damage.

Crisis communication plans provide the template for a company in a moment of crisis to respond accordingly. It also helps prevent future events and serves as the blueprint for crisis handling. The purpose is to show empathy and also to deliver correct information. Another aim is to demonstrate competency. Your organization’s competency in handling the crisis reassures your customers and can go a long way to restoring confidence.

What does good crisis communication look like?

The best approach to effective communications in a crisis will depend on the type of crisis and the industry.

One important thing is to remind people that a crisis isn't always a crisis unless you make it one. Sometimes, not attracting attention to a situation is the best route to take.

So, instead of creating noise and attracting attention, rather keep cool and focus on internal information sharing. Ensure the company knows what's going on and what to do if questions from stakeholders or the media arise.

However, these tips and best practices provide general advice that will almost certainly apply to most organizations.

1

Update everyone in real time

This applies to external audiences and internal teams. Keep everyone in the loop with the latest information as the event unfolds. This reduces confusion and lets employees know what they should share to inform and reassure customers.

2

Make updates accessible

Updates should be straightforward and to the point. Simplicity should be the goal. Don't communicate unnecessary info as it'll only confuse or raise more questions. Information should be published on all channels.

3

Show you care

Its very important to show empathy when a crisis hits. Apologize for what has happened and confirm your intention to rectify it. Where possible, acknowledge people's concerns directly. Your messaging should focus on the needs of your customers. Speak confidently, but don't lose the human touch.

4

Is it a crisis?

There are ups and downs in any business. Treating every one of the downs as a crisis could make you look silly and out of touch. Not a good look. You also need to think hard about what you put in the public domain. Is it needed? Does it unnecessarily share sensitive information or risk damage to your reputation?

5

Focus on trust

Trust is essential in any business. If people think that you're withholding information or not being transparent, it could spell the end of your business, so the clearer the message, the better. Don't let your audience second guess or read between the lines. Remove that possibility with clear communication.

Be consistent and remain in control of what you say. People will become wary when the message suddenly changes or contradicts previous communication.

6

Stick to protocol

You may have spent a lot of time putting your crisis comms into place. Don't neglect this now. Stick to the plan. This should include who will deliver what message and the channels employed for this.

Crisis communication vs. crisis management

It is important to be aware of the differences between crisis communication and crisis management, even though the terms get used interchangeably. There are many components of crisis management, of which crisis communications is one element - and a significant one.

What is crisis management in public relations?

Crisis management concerns the overall coordination of an organization's response to avoid damage. It covers pre-crisis, prevention, media training, and preparation. It also covers post-crisis management to analyze the results of the execution.

Crisis communication, instead, is gathering and disseminating crisis-related information and opinions to interested parties to protect and defend an organization's reputation.

There is a helpful way to remember the differences: Crisis management is concerned with the reality of the crisis. Crisis communication deals with perceptions of the situation.

Learn more about crisis management

Conclusion

It is always best to research and prepare for the worst-case scenarios, deal with them when they occur, and manage against them occurring in the future. We have covered what a crisis is, the purpose of crisis communication, and the importance of handling it.

The consequences of not planning can be severe, and you cannot assume a crisis will not happen to you.

The time to put together a plan for handling negative press or an emergency is before it happens, not after. Hiring a crisis communication firm familiar with your industry can be wise to guide you.

November 10, 2022
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