Employee Comms

How to create a crisis communication strategy


 — August 13th, 2020

How to create a crisis communication strategy

Less than a third of global organizations that experienced a business crisis said their reputation recovered within a year, with a further 16% saying it took as long as four years to recover.

It is impossible to predict when an emergency or difficult situation is going to arise within a business. To avoid the negative repercussions that can occur in the aftermath of such an event, it is beneficial to have a crisis communication strategy in place from the offset.

This strategy will help your organization protect its reputation and will also aid in maintaining a positive public image. Crisis communication strategies have been effective in assisting many high-profile businesses in overcoming scandals in the past.

Crisis communication plans: What we can learn from airplane pilots

Crisis communication examples


In 1993, Pepsi faced serious allegations regarding the safety of its drinks. The scandal unfolded after an elderly couple claimed they had found a syringe in one of Pepsi’s products. 

In the wake of this damage to its reputation, the company responded quickly and effectively by releasing a four-part video campaign showcasing the steps each Pepsi drink follows in the production process. Pepsi communicated openly with its customers to prove that there was no opportunity for cans to be tampered with before they were delivered to stores. By being transparent, the company was able to re-build trust in its products.


In 1982, the popular pain-killer brand Tylenol came under fire when seven people in Chicago were reported dead after consuming over-the-counter Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. It was largely predicted that the Tylenol brand would never recover after the crisis.

Although the company’s parent brand Johnson & Johnson knew Tylenol wasn't responsible for the deaths after it came to light the drugs had been tampered with, it still decided to immediately recall 32 million bottles of the product and also issued a national warning against consuming Tylenol capsules. When Tylenol re-introduced its product, it used tamper-resistant packaging and promoted caplets, which are more difficult to tamper with.

Virgin Group

In 2014, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group faced a dilemma when a Virgin Galactic test flight crashed. The SpaceShipTwo space tourism craft crashed while flying over the Mojave Desert in California, leading to the death of one pilot and injury of another. The incident not only caused a large setback to the Virgin Group's space travel plans, but to commercial space tourism as a whole.

To combat the disaster, Virgin Group began by openly sharing details of the crash with the public and by displaying genuine concern for the pilots and their families. Branson tweeted numerous times with updates and personal remarks and immediately flew out to Los Angeles to be at the scene of the incident and take responsibility for the unfortunate situation.

Types of crisis communication

As the above examples highlight, there are numerous different types of emergencies that can occur within a business. Some of the most common crises include:

  • Organizational crisis
  • Technological crisis
  • Natural crisis
  • Financial crisis
  • Confrontation crisis
  • Crisis of malevolence
  • Bankruptcy
  • Workplace violence
  • Crises of management values

No matter which of these issues you are dealing with there are some useful tips you can follow.

Prepare a crisis communication plan

To help prepare for any unexpected company emergencies, you should create a crisis management team and focus on putting together a strong crisis communication plan. Make sure the plan includes:

  • Goals of the plan
  • Members of your crisis management team
  • Key audiences
  • Steps to take when a crisis emerges
  • How you are going to communicate with the public
  • How to prevent the issues from happening, or in the case of natural crises, from hurting your company again.

There are a number of free templates online that you can utilize when making your crisis communication plan.

Put the customer first

When dealing with negative customer reviews in the aftermath of a crisis, a good start is to follow the simple rule that states the customer is always right. This can help undo the damage that has already been caused and prevent further issues from arising. Some useful suggestions include:

  • Offering discounts on future purchases
  • Contacting the customer directly to apologize
  • Changing the company policy that caused the issue
  • Offering a refund

Communicate with the public quickly and accurately

By communicating regularly and openly with the public about ongoing issues within the company, you can reduce uncertainty, anxiety and rumors. This is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of all business communication channels. To keep customers informed you can use platforms such as email, text, a 1-800 customer service phone number, voicemail, your website and various forms of social media. In addition, it is important to communicate openly with employees during these times to keep them informed and ease any concerns they are having.

Conduct post-crisis evaluation

In the aftermath of a crisis, consider carrying out follow up communication and analysis of how the situation was handled. Some useful questions to ask that can help with this process include:

  • What strengths did we show during this time?
  • What weaknesses were exposed?
  • How are we doing now?
  • What could we do differently next time we're in a crisis?

In this way, you can learn from the crisis and implement approaches that proved successful.

Why is a crisis communication plan important?

A crisis communication plan plays a vital role in effectively managing and recovering from a business emergency. By having a crisis communication plan in place, you are ensuring that you are the one in control of the narrative and events that have, or are currently, unfolding.

By utilizing the plan, companies are able to build and maintain their existing relationships and customers are reminded that the business is still active and working through the situation. Being updated on what is happening and how it is being resolved, will ultimately lead to customers once again developing trust in the company, which is a vital step towards overcoming any damages that have been caused as a result of the crisis.

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