Communications strategy

Handling a Crisis: 9 Steps to Take


If you pay any attention to the news these days, it seems like crises are lurking around every corner. One month, there’s news of millions of people’s private data getting into the hands of hackers and thieves. The next, some government official or another has used the public’s money for reasons that have nothing to do with his or her job.

While your company might not have to face crises of this magnitude, in all probability, it will have its own problems to deal with at some point in time. How a company responds to a crisis, particularly in the eye of the public, can make or break it going forward.

If you try to brush things aside or sweep problems under the rug, you will earn the ire and disrespect of your customers. In some cases, poor handling of a crisis can be seen as a violation of the law, landing your company in even hotter water.

Having an action plan in place will allow you to respond to crises if and when they occur, or even avoid them in the first place. Follow these steps to quickly navigate a crisis situation and emerge from it in one piece.

1. Make a List of Every Possible Crisis


If you have an idea of the kinds of crises that can happen to your business, you’re better able to make a plan in case one occurs. Take a look at the experience of companies in your industry. For example, wholesalers or retailers can look at credit card breaches experienced by their competitors for an idea of what to expect.

2. Evaluate Your Company’s Readiness

Review how prepared your company is to handle a crisis. Do you have a plan, and if so, when was the last time anyone took a look at it? Do you have a list of key people to contact in case the worst happens?

3. Make One Person the “Point Person


It’s a good idea to assign one person, preferably someone on your communications team, the role of spokesperson or point person. He or she should be trained to handle the demands of speaking to the press without casting the company in a bad light.

4. Prep Members of Your Team

Although you want to have one person be the official spokesperson for your company, it’s still important that everyone else on your team who might be interviewed by the press have some preparation and training. Such training can provide valuable tips on how to talk to the media, and even how to stand and position themselves when being interviewed.

5. Be Proactive About Your Company’s Image

One way to soften the blow of a crisis is to work on building your company’s image and reputation. For example, you can heavily promote any charitable work completed by members of your team or by the business’s leaders.

You can also try to place positive profiles of your executive team in newspapers, magazines or online. Maintaining a positive social media presence and responding to people’s concerns or comments in a timely way can also help to bolster your company’s reputation.

6. Hold Crisis Response Drills

Just as your workplace holds regular fire drills, it’s a good idea to hold crisis response drills on a somewhat regular basis. The drills will give your team a chance to practice what they have learned and will help you see where there is room for improvement.

7. Respond Quickly if a Crisis Does Occur

In the unfortunate event of a crisis, you need to act quickly. Getting in front of the press and media before they have a chance to define the story gives your company an opportunity to smooth things over and present itself in the best possible way.

8. Don’t Cover Things Up

It can be a natural response to want to bury a crisis, but that never works out well. Companies that ignore major problems, whether they are public relations gaffes or security holes that affect millions of people, usually make more work for themselves when it comes to regaining the public’s trust.

Be transparent about what happened, and perhaps most importantly, own up to it. Don’t point fingers or place blame on others. An unfortunate situation occurred at or involving your company: it’s time to let the public know what you plan to do about it.

9. Review and Assess

After a crisis, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate what happened. How did your company respond and how did people respond to your response? Was there a noticeable drop in business or a rise in negative sentiment? Or did people seem to accept what happened and move on?

Although you don’t want to end up in a sticky situation in the first place, you can look at it as a learning experience for your company. Assess your response and the outcome and consider what you can do differently going forward.



Tips for Putting Together a Successful Communications Strategy


A communications strategy can take several forms. It can be a short-term plan for promoting a specific event or product launch. It can also be a plan for a long-term project or can focus on the overall needs of your company or organization.

No matter the purpose of the strategy, a successful one usually has several common features: measurable objectives, a clear definition of target audiences and a compelling message.

Know Your Objectives and Goals

Simply put, you can’t have a strategy without having a goal, since a strategy is defined as a “plan of action designed to achieve an . . . overall aim” or goal.  Without that aim, or goal, you just have a plan that might not lead anywhere.

A goal is usually a big picture item or the main outcome you’d like your strategy to bring about. For example, your overarching business goal might be increase awareness of your brand or to make your company a leader in its field by a certain date.

Once you have the big picture goal, you can focus on the objectives that will help you put the strategy into practice and allow your company to realize its goal. While goals are broad, objectives are narrow. They should also be SMART, meaning they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.


If your goal is to increase awareness of your brand, an objective might to be produce an ad that runs on a major network during primetime. Another objective might be to create a customer referral program to give current customers credits or points for referring others.

Know Your Audience

It’s important to understand the current relationship you have with your audience or intended audience(s), as that will determine the angle and tools you use to reach them. For example, you’d use different tactics to reach and communicate with current customers who plan on working with you in the future than you would to reach people who aren’t your customers and who aren’t sure that they will ever be.

You also want to consider who you use to deliver your company’s message and what relationship that person might have to the audience. For example, an authority figure or leader in your industry might be particularly helpful if your goal is to persuade more people to use your product, or if you want to reach people who might be skeptical about what your company has to offer.

 Find Your Story

 A story is a crucial part of any communications strategy. The human brain reacts differently to a story than it does to pure data or facts. As the New York Times reported, the same areas of the brain are stimulated when a person reads about someone’s experience as are stimulated when experiencing something directly.

As this infographic from OneSpot shows, 92 percent of people prefer ads that tell a story or that feel like a story. Figure out what your company’s story is, then make putting together a narrative a key part of your communications strategy.

Pick Relevant Tools for Connecting


Once you know the why, the who, and the what of your strategy, you need to pick the how.

You don’t have to choose just one tool or method for communicating, but it helps to choose methods that will actually reach your target audiences. For example, if you’re going to use social media to connect with people, Facebook might be the social network of choice. According to a study from Pew Research Center, 68 percent of Americans use the site.

It can also be worth pursuing earned media opportunities – i.e., achieving product publicity in a trade magazine — over paid media. Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising study found that earned media was viewed as the most credible and trustworthy.

Once your strategy is in place, you can take stock of it to see if it is living up to your expectations. You can conduct surveys of the customers you wanted to reach to ask them what they think, or if there are ways you can improve. You can also use analytics and statistics to measure response to certain tools. For example, you can see if your Facebook posts are getting people to click, or referral codes are actually bringing in new customers.