Crisis communication – how to get it right

April 12, 2016 by Sophie Hunt


Effective crisis communication relies on clear, simple and appropriate messaging. Get it right at the outset and you’ll enhance your organisation’s ability to protect its reputation. Get it wrong and the consequences can be devastating.

Avoiding pitfalls

We recently came across a statement issued by an organisation in the immediate aftermath of a serious environmental incident. Although it made reference to the fact that the families of those affected were being contacted, the overriding tone of the statement was cold and it lacked empathy: “the process of locating the unaccounted for personnel is in progress, as well as an assessment of the damage and recoverability of the affected infrastructure.”

Equally, the text was littered with industry jargon such as “dewatering infrastructure” and “geotechnical failure” making it difficult for those outside the sector to understand exactly what had happened. As a result, the statement failed to strike any of the correct notes and was a perfect example of poor crisis communication.

A model approach to crisis communications

By contrast, the statement issued by BHP Billiton’s chief executive, Andrew Mackenzie, following the Samarco tailings dam incident in Brazil, was a model of good crisis communication.

Not only was Mr Mackenzie quick to express his concern for everyone affected by the tragedy, but he also appeared genuinely moved by it. He used clear, simple language to explain the actions his company was taking to address the situation and he successfully positioned BHP as an organisation prepared to shoulder responsibility for a crisis that has been deemed the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history.

So, what lessons can we learn from these two approaches? Here are three useful pieces of advice.

Show your humanity

In a crisis, always ensure you demonstrate an appropriate level of concern and empathy for those affected by it. Never be afraid to show your humanity. Failure to do so means you risk being seen as cold and uncaring.

Keep it simple

Make sure you use clear, simple language in written and verbal statements. During a crisis, people need to understand quickly what you are saying so it’s vital you convey your messages in an easy, accessible format.

Steer clear of jargon

Avoid using jargon or technical speak. As well as building barriers between you and your audience, it reinforces the cold, uncaring persona and positions you as out of touch and removed from the situation.

Crisis communication shouldn’t be longwinded or highly intellectual. It should simply be clear and heartfelt. If you follow those rules, your chances of protecting your reputation will definitely be increased.


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Finalists for Specialist Consultancy of the Year at CIR Business Continuity Awards 2020 & 2023

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Finalists in 2023 Great British Entrepreneur Awards: Service Industries category

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Winner Specialist Business Book of the Year 2021 at The Business Book Awards (Crisis Proof)

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Finalists in the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards 2021: Purpose Before Profit category

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Finalists in the Business Champion Awards 2021: Champions in a Crisis category

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Finalists for Business Advisor of the Year at the 2021 Growing Business Awards

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Shortlisted for BCI Europe Awards 2023: Continuity and Resilience Consultant category