Have Honest Communication with Target Audiences in a Crisis

Good crisis management calls for open, honest communication with various target audiences.

During a crisis, however, this is most difficult to accomplish. As human beings, we usually seek ways to avoid or soften painful experiences. It is helpful to recognize some specific reasons people use to discourage open communication. These reasons are all logical, reasonable, and probably valid to some degree. Nevertheless, unless you deal with them effectively, they will become obstacles, making it extremely difficult to resolve the crisis.

  • We need to assemble all the facts – We do need all the facts; that must be a priority. However, we may need to release some information initially and be honest about the fact that we still are gathering information.
  • We must avoid panic – One of the best ways to avoid panic is to control the flow of information. We can establish and maintain our credibility as an information source only when we communicate openly and honestly.
  • We have no spokesperson who can respond – Crisis communication planning will identify spokespersons. The head of the organization is an appropriate general spokesperson for most crises.
  • There are legal issues involved – Legal issues often are involved in crises. Management must be willing to balance legal and public relations issues. The long-term health of an organization depends not only on a legal resolution of a specific issue, but also on the effective resolution of a crisis in the “court of public opinion.”
  • We need to protect our organization’s image – Open and prompt communication is essential to protect our image with the media and the general public.
  • We don’t know yet how to respond to the crisis – It may in fact take some time to develop a solution to the crisis. Part of the challenge and opportunity of the crisis is to show those affected that the organization is using a reasonable, caring process to resolve the crisis. We can show this process best when we are willing to communicate openly.
  • There is proprietary information involved that we cannot divulge – There may be information we cannot divulge, especially if there are consequences for a particular member of the organization. We need to weigh our decisions carefully, point by point, to determine if such a situation really exists, or whether we simply are making excuses. We need to remember that public safety must be a paramount concern.