What should we say when everything goes wrong?

Good communication is a key aspect of the recovery of your business after a crisis. All parties involved, internally as well as externally, should be addressed on the crisis and the events that follow on it. In this short article we first discuss the most important aspects of communicating in a crisis, so what you should do, and we end with a short overview of what you certainly shouldn’t do. Most of the aspects that will be addressed in this article are extensively discussed in the ISO 22313 standard.

A first important aspect of crisis communication is communicating internally.  You need to make sure that you know on beforehand who you need to contact when a crisis occurs. Because of the different types of crises, there will be different persons that should be contacted.. For example, when an entire plant collapses you will have to contact a larger and/or different team than when a server breaks down.

Second, in times of a crisis, you’ll also need to communicate externally to customers, vendors and other stakeholders. It is important that everybody in the company is informed about what should be communicated to the involved parties. Anyone who is unsatisfied with that story should be directed to management. Also important is that all the employees who have contact with stakeholders are updated on the recent developments regarding the crisis. Bear in mind that you can also update your website or social media to communicate on the crisis (cf. How Twitter and Facebook can save my business). For example, you can post a statement so every interested party is informed on the event and it might be interesting to provide visitors of the website with the opportunity to post questions on the crisis and how it develops. If you do so, make sure you can answer them quickly and correctly.

A last aspect is communication with the media. They can make or break your reputation because they decide how the incident is portrayed towards the general public. This can be managed in two ways.  First of all you can hire a professional who has experience in communicating with the media and knows how the handle any form of media attention. Second, you can also handle the media internally. In that case you’ll need to prepare for any confrontation with the media. For example, some of the managers will need to get media trained and in case of a crisis one, and only one of them, will handle the media. This to make sure that the same information is communicated. If no immediate response is required it is preferable to avoid speaking to the press in the first hours after the event. In that way you can prepare a good media plan. Do not wait too long with this of course or people might start thinking you just do not care. When it comes to speaking with the media, remember that one bad story in the media can result in severe reputational damage. On the other hand, when media is handled well it can strengthen the confidence in the company.

After a short introduction of what you should do in times of a crisis, we end this article by giving an overview on what you certainly shouldn’t do when it comes to crisis communication. One of the biggest mistakes is probably doing nothing or acting too late. In that case people and the media will start speculating on what has happened and how the story will end. Another thing to avoid is to be put in a reactive position. You want that others react on what you say and not the other way around. In that way you stay in the driver’s seat. Lastly, always keep in mind that perception and reality are two different things. Even though you know you have the facts on your side. Do not hope that the public will realize this and eventually will learn about the truth. By the time they do, it might be too late.

This short article handled a few important aspects of crisis communication. Of course there is much more to keep in mind that isn’t mentioned here. This text only gave an overview on what you absolutely should and shouldn’t do in a crisis.

AfbeeldingAlways keep the following questions in mind.


Bernstein, J. (1996). Making a Crisis Worse: The Biggest Mistakes in Crisis Communications. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from http://www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com/articles/biggest-mistakes-in-crisis-communications.html

Okolita, K. (2010). Building an Enterprise-Wide Business Continuity Program. Broken Sound Parkway NW: Auerbach Publications.


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