Six top tips for communicator credibility in times of crisis

Authenticity. Understanding. Trust. It’s what every professional communicator strives for, and it’s never more important than in times of crisis.

By Alison Arnot FCIPR, CIPR Trainer and Director at Catalyst Communications,

As PR professionals, we know the reputational harm a poorly managed crisis can have, and we know that equally, there are benefits to be seen when we get it right. So we watch for danger signs, prepare for a range of scenarios, and feel confident that if the worst happens, our pre-planning, skills and experience mean we’re well placed to help our organisation back on its feet.

And if disaster strikes, we move quickly, developing our message and communicating our response.

But what happens when that response doesn’t land quite right?

Our strategy looked good on paper. Our messages were well judged, painstakingly prepared and signed off in a timely fashion… so why did they flop without a trace – or worse – aggravate the situation further?

Often, the problem lies not in the message itself but in the choice of messenger.

Internally, that’s a hard message to share.

But having the wrong person speak on your behalf can leave real and lasting damage, so it’s important to agree and train a spokesperson who is credible, authentic, and a little bit likeable too.

Here are my six top tips for achieving communicator credibility in times of crisis:

Listen: A crisis is not a time to be making new enemies, and so tact and diplomacy are key. Make extra effort to get involved in the conversation. Ensure your spokesperson is seen to be listening and can respond to feedback in a genuine, respectful and compassionate way.

Be available: It seems obvious, but if you want your voice to be heard, trusted and believed, the first step is to be available to the media and other stakeholders wherever and whenever the crisis is discussed. A lack of availability can signify a lack of care, and suggests you have other priorities. 

Share an opinion: When a crisis hits, defining the problem and quickly shaping the story are critical, so make sure you have an opinion worth sharing. This means using someone who gets what’s happening, understands how it affects others, and can share valuable updates in an informed, expert manner.

Be bold: Being the face of an organisation under fire is scary, but it’s important to be bold, accept responsibility for any wrongdoings and take the heat where it’s due. Showing fear or discomfort at having to deal with your own mess does not win respect.

Demonstrate compassion: Failure to empathise with your victims is a guaranteed way to lose support, fast. Try to choose a spokesperson who can relate to the audience and encourage him or her to speak with passion, care and humility about what went wrong and what’s being done to fix it.

And finally, practice, practice, practice! Practice builds confidence and it’s the best way to work out exactly what needs to be said and how to say it better.

Find out more about our Crisis comms courses and more about CIPR Training. CIPR trainer Alison Arnot FCIPR next course: Introduction to PR Strategy & Planning Campaigns will be taking place in Glasgow.

Photo by Fleur Treurniet on Unsplash


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