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  • Writer's pictureLaura Merritt

How to manage a crisis successfully

What are the elements of crisis management?

While there are many different types of crisis management and crisis management models, no matter what, your main crisis communication objectives are to be prepared, truthful, empathetic and efficient.


Completing the following steps will help ensure you are ready for any crisis. Here are a few best practices for all stages of crisis management:

  • Creating a crisis response team with representation from leadership, HR, communications, IT and potentially impacted departments or channels—and assigning roles to each team member.

  • Considering all potentialpossible crisis scenarios, their potential impact (i.e., local, national, etc.), who should be notified, etc. when designing your crisis management plan

  • Identifying subject matter experts, dependent on the crisis scenario, to be spokespersons—and getting them media trained. Your external communication during a crisis will impact the public’s perception of your organization.

  • Creating template fact sheets, key messages, Q & As, and communications for internal and external audiences (including media) that can be quickly modified for any crisis.

  • Conducting mock crisis exercises with your team, ideally at least twice a year.

How to manage a crisis successfully

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you will find yourself managing the crisis you tried to prevent. It’s great to have crisis prevention strategies in place, but as we have discussed, many crises are simply unavoidable. Whether dealing with an internal crisis within your organization, or something external that is affecting your organization, let’s discuss some crisis communication strategies that will help you successfully manage a crisis.


Stop and process before responding: When information starts coming in, it may feel unnatural to take a pause instead of oura 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.


Acknowledge the situation: 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. According to Susan Brown of Big Impact Communications, the new crisis response timetable is: 15–30–60–90. Essentially, she recommends issuing your first response within 15 minutes of first becoming aware of the situation, then another at 30 minutes and so on. You likely will not have all the information initially, but that doesn’t mean you should stay quiet. A simple message acknowledging the incident and the assurance that you are working to get the answers is sufficient AND will provide an update at a specified time (and do it!) is sufficient. It lets people know that you are on it and will keep them informed.


Establish your organization as the most accurate information source: 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. Your audience should feel assured that if they want to know what has happened (or is happening), you are their best resource for updates.


Speak with intention AND empathy: 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.


Navigating a crisis is something all organizations should prepare for, both in terms of organizational and communications plans. AOE has deep expertise in developing crisis plans and will work with you to help build the optimal communications for your employees, customers and other stakeholders—no matter what the crisis. For more information, reach out to us today and be sure to visit AOE’s Crisis Communications Microsite.



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