Here are some steps to help you navigate a crisis and transform your crisis communications into empowering messages.
1. Know your role In any crisis or emergency, there is a lead agency. The lead agency’s role in communications is to be the one source of truth, the place where your audience can receive reliable and timely information.
If you are not part of the lead agency, it is not your role to develop the communications for the emergency response to the crisis, instead, you can share the lead agency’s information about the crisis to your network including links to where they can find up-to-date information on the crisis (link to the lead agency’s website or their preferred communication channel). This will help spread the word without placing extra pressure on your resources.
It is your role to communicate the impact the crisis is having on your organisation, clients, stakeholders and staff.
Action: jot down all the impacts this is having on your organisation, staff, clients and stakeholders. Also note what level of information you should share from the lead agency, what parts of their message relate to your organisation/industry?
2. It’s not about you Your communications should not be all about you… they should be all about how this will impact your audience.
With your audience in mind, consider:
How will this impact them?
What are they worried about?
What questions will they have?
Can they read English?
How do you usually communicate with them?
What is their preferred communications channel?
You may need to do a version for each of your audience groups (e.g. for staff, for clients, for stakeholders). The key factor for this is how different their responses will be to the above questions – if they are very different you will need to separate them.
Action: using the above dot points, jot down the responses based on your audience groups.
3. Define your key message Using the information from the above two steps it’s time to start thinking about your key message. If your audience only takes one message from your communications, what message should that be? That is your key message.
If you separated your audience groups in step two, then do a key message for each of your audience groups.
Action: jot down your key message for each audience group. You might like to do a few versions, using different words to explain what you mean and then pick your favourite.
4. Draft your communications Using your key message and your notes from steps one and two, start drafting your communications.
Use the following writing techniques to make your communications simple and effective:
Use headings and bullet points
Use simple English (think grade 6 level)
Consider using images to help explain your message
Tip: you can use the below two online resources to check your spelling, grammar and that your text is easy to read.
Hemingway Editor: highlights lengthy, complex sentences and common errors. If you see a yellow sentence, shorten or split it.
Action: start writing your communications for each audience group using the above techniques to guide you. Once you are happy with your draft it’s always a good idea to have someone else read it to check for understanding and errors.
5. Get it out on time Timing is key in a crisis. You don’t want to leave your audience hanging, or let others make up your story and tell it for you. It is better to send a timely message than send a perfect message too late.
It’s okay to make mistakes, learn from them and reset for your next communications.
When working out what channels to send your communications, consider your responses in step two. It’s a good idea to send your communications across many channels in a crisis, that way you reduce the risk of your audience groups missing it.
Tip: your audience is more likely to forgive you if you own your mistakes. So, when sending the updated communications own your error, apologise for it, acknowledge the impact it had on your audience and then move on.
Action: send your communications out as soon as possible. If you need approvals then think about what channel they respond to quickest. If in doubt, call them.
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