Be Heard Blog

Communicating in a Crisis

20 May 2014, by Kate Hardman, ABC in Be Heard Blog

In the midst of a crisis, communications professionals are expected to work quickly to gather input from various sources and craft a comprehensive message.

Crisis-communications_webDuring this critical time, there are three reminders that will help make sure your crisis response messaging is as effective as possible.

Focus on Audience Priorities

Leadership and legal counsel may have very specific needs for communications during a crisis, including required messaging and key points.  It is especially important for the communicator to work with stakeholders to address these needs while also editing the message in a way that takes care of the most important aspects for the audience.

The priority for the audience includes:

  1. Actions they need to take
  2. Information they need to have
  3. Background information or details

It is also critical to do whatever is possible to make the information easy to understand.  If there are legal requirements for messaging, can the key points be edited in a way that meets the requirements without being confusing for the audience?

Edit for Each Communication Vehicle

Because of the extra stress involved in a crisis, your audience may spend even less time reading your message.   To help counteract this, it is important that each communication be edited and optimized for the specific communication vehicle being used.   Don’t just take a single communication and use it for the web page and the email message.  Taking the time to customize each message for the vehicle will make sure your communication is as impactful as possible.

For example, an email notification is most effective written in the ‘inverted pyramid’ style, with the most important information and details at the top of the message.  Make sure any actions the audience needs to take are called out in the subject line.

For web pages, break the content into subtitled ‘chunks’, which are easier for the reader to scan.  Save the detailed background information and company statements for a web site posting or press release which can include more items that may be pulled out as quotes.

Consistency is Key

During a crisis, version control can seem like a crisis in itself.  You will be juggling multiple documents and coordinating simultaneous changes in a very short timeframe.

To help manage the process, it can be helpful to set up a master change spreadsheet.   Track the following for each reviewer/approver:

Changes made to Communication: 




Key Changes





Talking Points

John Smith


All employees must complete by 5/15 changed to all employees must complete by 5/16





Sally Reynolds


Acme Inc. will provide credit monitoring for one year changed to Acme Inc. will provide credit monitoring for two years






Emily Richards


Stan Brown



This will allow you to track who still needs to review or approve, which is important as you are finalizing each document.

It also provides clear tracking for all critical changes.  There is no need to track minor edits, but knowing who requested key changes can be very helpful when managing conflicting change requests.

Tracking the change across each vehicle is also important and helps ensure consistency across all messages.  Seeing where a change is located across your vehicles can be a lifesaver when you are asked to make a change at the last minute (for example, changing the date back to the 15th) right before something is finalized.

What tips and tricks do you have for managing crisis communications?  Share your ideas in the comments.

Anna Davison