For Crisis Communications Teams, Any Eve Could be Fright Night

October 31, 2023
By Janine Allen

Halloween is a time of ghostly encounters and eerie tales. But what’s even scarier than those ghost stories? A crisis situation that catches you off guard without a plan for effective communication. Whether you’re a business leader or a public official, understanding the principles of crisis communication is essential to navigate through chilling times. Here, we’ll explore ten crucial best practices for leadership during a crisis, and while I’d never make light of a real crisis, we can have a little themed fun with the tips, right?

  1. Respond Quickly: It’s the Witching Hour

In times of crisis, time is of the essence. Just as you wouldn’t want to be caught in the witching hour unprepared, organizations should have a crisis communication plan ready to go at a moment’s notice. The need for speed has increased exponentially with the accessibility of social media and the public has an expectation of expediency.

  1. Show Empathy and Compassion: The Heart of the Haunt

Empathy is like the beating heart of leadership in a crisis. Showing compassion and understanding for those affected by the crisis is both human and essential to mitigating reputational harm. Just like a friendly ghost, approach the situation with kindness and sensitivity. If you can’t, you aren’t the right spokesperson for a crisis.

  1. Be Transparent: Unmask the Truth

Transparency is the key to retaining credibility and trust during a crisis. Unmask the truth; people will be more likely to forgive if they believe the company is being honest about the situation and sharing information openly. That means admitting when you don’t have the answer too; but be sure to commit to getting one and reporting back.

  1. Be Accessible: Don’t be a Phantom

Don’t be a phantom leader who becomes “unavailable” during a crisis. Be available to all your key audiences – whether media, key clients, shareholders or community leaders – to address concerns, answer questions, and provide updates. The crisis is going to be your priority for a while, so demonstrate that with access.

  1. Lead with Confidence and Decisiveness: Exorcise Doubt

In times of crisis, people look to their leaders to tell them what to do. And most times, we have to make decisions based on less than full information. Confidence in leadership is like an exorcism, driving away doubt and fear. The leader in a crisis needs to be someone with the authority to make decisions and the confidence to do so.

  1. Validate Your Messages with Actions: Show, Don’t Rely on Tricks

Actions speak louder than words, especially during a crisis. If you promise to make the situation right, follow through with meaningful remedy measures and changes that aim to prevent the crisis from happening again.

  1. Be Flexible and Adaptive: Get Through the Corn Maze

The first route didn’t work? Try another path. No two crises are the same so you can’t expect to use a template. Be ready to pivot your strategy as the situation evolves.

  1. Take Appropriate Ownership: Face the Fear

When things go wrong, it’s important to take appropriate ownership and responsibility for the matter. Facing the creatures of the night means acknowledging your organization’s role and actively working with the relevant parties to resolve the crisis.

  1. Choose the Right Spokesperson: Beware of Hidden Creatures

Select a spokesperson who is credible, knowledgeable, has authority to make decisions and can effectively convey your messages (read: media-trained). The right spokesperson isn’t automatically the CEO, though in the most serious of issues, it’s often the most appropriate. Beware of impersonators who could erode trust in your communication while chasing the spotlight.

  1. Show a Willingness to Learn from Experience: The Ghost of Mistakes Past

Related to pairing words with actions, it’s important for an organization to demonstrate a commitment to learning form what happened; whether it’s a review of policies and procedures, a system audit or repair, retraining and remediation or new safety measures. While an organization can definitely survive one crisis, repeated failures (especially for small businesses) can have career and company-ending results.

While crises can have all the same tricks and unnerving events as Halloween, preparation and strong leadership can mitigate reputation loss so issues don’t haunt your organization’s future.

Have a question? Interested in finding out more?