• Laura Merritt

Crisis Communications in Uncertain Times: What to Do When a Crisis Hits


As we shared in part one of this series, we are living in a time of uncertainty with crises seeming to occur almost daily. With the likelihood of a crisis affecting your organization greater than ever before, the implications of being unprepared can be devastating. Having a crisis communication plan in place will help you weather the storm. In part one, we walked through the steps in building a plan. Now we move on to what to do when the crisis hits.


When it happens

When information starts coming in, it may feel unnatural to take a pause instead of our knee-jerk reaction to immediately respond. However, it’s important to pause and start gathering the five Ws (who, what, where, when and why) and the H (how) for each statement you’ll make. The information may come in, at least initially, as a trickle or it may hit you like a flood with multiple sources providing potentially conflicting ”facts.” Particularly in the early minutes and hours of a crisis, factors like confusion, fear or miscommunication can lead to misinformation. Stopping to assess each bit of information presented will help you craft your response(s) to address any inaccuracies and ensure that you control the conversation instead of it controlling you. Trust in information sources is at an all-time low. Ensuring that the information you provide to the public, your shareholders, your employees and others is factual is paramount. Once misinformation gets out, it’s very difficult to reel it back in.


How to respond

While you pause to gather the facts, you shouldn’t wait too long to respond. Simply acknowledging the situation (e.g., “We are aware of the situation and will provide more information as soon as possible”) lets people know that you are not hiding and that, if they want to know what has happened (or is happening), you are their best resource for updates.

Once you have the facts and can provide a statement, make sure your message is people-focused; timely and constant; avoids speculation; and considers emotions--It’s not only what you say, it’s also how you say it, what you wear when you’re saying it and even the tone of your voice.

  • How ready is your organization? Do you have a crisis communications plan that is regularly exercised, tested and updated?

  • Have key messages to respond to all threats. (keeps your crisis from going adrift)

  • Indestructible PR response: Own it. Explain it. Promise it

  • Create a “bullet-proof” brand (When you have built a brand on authenticity and integrity and you are consistent about your message, your causes, and your quality of service or product, your brand is bulletproof)

o Branding is the foundation of getting the public to know, like, and trust you.

o Branding is all about personification—giving human traits to a brand.

o A solid brand not only brings you clients, but it also detracts those that are NOT your customer/client.

o A solid brand helps you be consistent with messaging, processes and procedures.

o A solid brand has an element of goodwill that should drive actions and reactions.

o Consistency brings referrals and increased brand awareness.

o Thought leadership and social purpose are key to creating a three-dimensional brand that is strong enough to withstand unexpected crises.

o The product is your brand’s body, thought leadership is your brand’s mind, social purpose is your brand’s heart.


We will address in more detail what to do when a crisis occurs in part three of this series. No matter what the crisis, AOE will work with you to build your internal and external communications plan to ensure you are prepared. For more information, reach out to us today and be sure to visit AOE’s Crisis Communications Microsite.