The Changing Nature of Crisis Communication: 2019 and Beyond

The world has become increasingly globalized and highly interconnected thanks to our rapidly advancing digital world. There is a slight risk to placing such trust and faith in technology; there is always the risk that it may let users down in a variety of small daily ways, or in the event of some type of large-scale event or disaster that could create a local or global crisis in communication, according to The Institute for Public Relations.

That’s why it’s important to be prepared with ways to handle modern crisis communication. Are you equipped to save a company from itself?

Today's business leaders must understand—via their own learning or through hiring trusted staff in crisis communication—the nature of various crises and how they may impact communication, as well as being able to determine strategies to manage crisis communication quickly and effectively.

Looking forward to trends in crisis communication, one should keep in mind that:

  • As businesses become increasingly advanced with the help of advanced technology, it also becomes increasingly vulnerable to any breakdown in communication due to crisis.
  • Crisis communication becomes compounded when businesses do not have a response and recovery strategy in place.
  • Communication leaders, executives and public relations professionals all have a vested role and interest in protecting a business's brand, reputation and ongoing credibility.

Trends to Expect in Modern Crisis Communication

Running a business without a crisis communication strategy places an organization at great risk in the current global climate and the continually turbulent news cycle. Any company that must answer to the public and peers to any degree must keep their daily and communication approach aligned with current standards. A strong crisis communication plan protects an articulately communicated and respected brand, no matter what type of crisis may strike.

Crisis Communication and the Ability to Deftly Manage Unwanted Events

The types of crises a crisis communication leader might face in today's professional environment are myriad and greatly varied. Once upon a time, the concept implied situations such as a tornado strike in a small town, creating challenges for local law enforcement and emergency services to effectively connect and coordinate. It also might have meant that a local business experienced flooding that damaged their IT server room, compromising their equipment and electronic files.

Today, crisis communication has taken on wild new dimensions and may entail any number and variety of unwanted events that a crisis communication manager must know how to handle in an instant. Modern crisis events may include the following:

  • Natural and some man-made disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and fires.
  • School, business or other large-scale shooting or violent event that can directly impact an organization.
  • Accusations of crime, theft or any type of impropriety against key executives or other organizational higher-ups whose name and face widely represent the company.
  • Large-scale product recalls due to the release of products that may cause injury or illness to consumers.
  • An incident, or incidents, that has caused injury or illness to consumers involving a product or service provided by the business.
  • Governmental and other investigations into the company's practices, procedures and ethics.
  • A data breach that compromises consumers' data, privacy and identity.

While some of these events may seem like misfortunes and inconveniences, they become crises due to the feeling of threat and fear that they incite in everyone involved, including business leaders, employees and the public. Any of these scenarios and others that could negatively impact a business's reputation, consumer loyalty and the bottom line constitutes a crisis that requires confident crisis communication management. Crisis not only affects the daily smooth functioning of the organization but also pose a threat to the future health of the business.

Businesses of All Types and Sizes Require a Strong Crisis Communication Plan

Small, medium and large businesses, whether privately or publicly traded need to prepare for any type of crisis event. All sectors and industries, such as healthcare, educational institutions, service firms, non-profits, transportation and manufacturing, need to continually review the risks that may befall their business at any time.

Developing a Core Strategy for Crisis Communication Is the Top Priority

One of the key things to keep in mind when encountering a crisis that requires strong communication is to get the organization to the "other side" of the crisis safely and with as little damage to reputation as possible. In some cases, a strong crisis communication strategy can even enhance a business's reputation in the wake of an issue.

Building and Identifying a Strategic Crisis Communication Team Provides Crucial Support in Crises

Crisis communication teams are often comprised of a small group of senior executives and public relations experts. It is optimal that a CEO would lead the team, alongside the top public relations executive, and legal counsel and his or her assistants. There are times when businesses cannot afford full in-house public relations teams. In such cases, may keep public relations firms on retainer in the event of a crisis.

Additionally, it is important for management in various departments to understand what must happen in the event of a crisis. Even if they do not need to do anything to directly assist regarding the crisis, they need to communicate the issue to their employees to keep them informed and to know if they can or should do anything to help.

Finally, it helps for communication leaders to connect with local authorities for law enforcement or emergency care, as well as local media, in case the crisis involves a natural disaster, violent event or other crime. The crisis communication team can help maintain calm by knowing who to contact and how to manage a crisis on that level.

Anticipating Crises Leaves Little Room for Panic or Faulty Communication

Being caught off-guard is not an option for smart communication leaders. By knowing all the possible crises that can befall an organization goes a long way toward developing a strong communication crisis team and strategy.

Such a strategy allows a crisis management team to look at any possible negative event in a positive and proactive way, having already performed brainstorming sessions on all possible and likely crisis events that could occur within the organization.

Triaging Communications Is Essential

At the time of a crisis event, landing on the best medium for communication is critical. It is important to consider all the best ways to facilitate positive communication about the issue at hand. Depending on the nature, sensitivity or immediate urgency of the crisis, as well as to the persons to whom a communication leader is connecting and their preferred communication style, it is important to consider the best option from the following:

  • Emails
  • Letters
  • Face-to-face meetings
  • Telephone calls
  • Websites
  • Blogs
  • Social media platform posts
  • Traditional news media

Once determining the best method and strategy, communication leaders can then continue monitoring reactions and responding accordingly.

Providing Responsible and Reasonable Transparency Keeps Communication Simple

Looking back on cases like Enron and AIG, it is clear that—in addition to the basic crimes—obscuring the truth ultimately destroys businesses. There are times when the best tact is for businesses to step up and accept responsibility. In such cases, the blatant lies and attempts at subterfuge turned out to be as bad as the fraud perpetrated against hardworking people who lost their pensions. The truth will out in most cases.

On the other hand, if there is a question of culpability, and there is doubt that the organization knowingly acted in bad faith, businesses do not need to accept undue blame.

Crisis Communication Is Continually Evolving

Crisis communication is a field growing at a rapid pace, thanks to rapid changes in technology, an ever-growing number of possible crises, and ever-growing connectivity as the world becomes smaller and smaller due to communication itself. It is crucial to business leaders to keep an eye out for the latest trends while hiring the top professionals in crisis communication and public relations to keep everyone prepared for any possible crisis situation that may develop, arise or strike without warning.

Interested in building a strong crisis communication strategy for your organization or simply overhauling the one you currently have? Prepare for what’s next with a Master of Communication Management Degree from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Those who equip themselves with a broad knowledge base will be well-placed to help today's businesses anticipate and respond to a communication-related crisis swiftly and appropriately to achieve the best possible outcomes.

 Sources  for "The Institute for Public Relations"