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Communicating in a crisis

Communicating in a crisis

The majority of New Zealand businesses have suffered some form of disruption due to COVID-19, particularly in the Queenstown Lakes.

Although this type of external crisis is unfortunately largely unavoidable, strong communication both within your business and with your audiences is now more important than ever.

A crisis can arise through various internal and external scenarios, all of which can be damaging to your brand and your bottom line. That’s why a business or organisation should have a comprehensive crisis communications strategy in place while keeping true to the following communications tactics:


Remember the “4Cs” …

Provide clarity, consistency, calm and take control. You have the ability to mitigate and lessen the impact on your brand if a crisis is handled correctly from the outset.


Clarity: Ensure your business is transparent throughout the crisis communications process, both within your teams and to stakeholders and media. Be clear about the information you have and do not leave room for speculation.

Consistency: Be consistent with your facts and your tone. It’s a good idea to enlist a dedicated crisis spokesperson for this very reason – not only does it aid in developing trust with media and stakeholders, a spokesperson can ensure the consistent delivery of your key messages.

Calm: An obvious one, but it’s important for an organisation to remain calm throughout a crisis. Be empathetic, not alarmist.

Control: Take control of the situation early. Seek the information you need, convey the details to stakeholders and media and keep connecting throughout the event.

… and the 4 Phases

There are four key phases of communication when it comes to successfully handling a crisis.

1: Identify the potential risks to your organisation

2: Assess and prepare: collate the details of the situation and prepare to share them
3: Engage staff, stakeholders and media
4: Manage and mitigate: find opportunities to create brand positivity and learn ways to further prevent a crisis in the future

Front foot the situation – fast

As soon as a crisis eventuates, it’s crucial to notify your staff, stakeholders and, depending on the severity of the situation, media. Crisis comms move at lightning speed and some scenarios will require a press release while others may need a press conference – obtain professional media advice to find out what is best suited to your announcement. 

Decide on the key information that needs to be communicated and relay details as accurately as possible, while also providing context. For example, you may need to use the line: “At this point, this is what we know. We will update you as soon as we know more.”

Make it swift: it’s better to announce early with limited details, than to leave it too late and risk having your organisation subject to speculation. Anticipate the questions media will ask and prepare your responses to these.

Communicate constantly

Deliver regular, clear, concise and consistent messages from your organisation throughout the brunt of the crisis. There’s no such thing as too much communication in a crisis – it’s better to share what you know now than wait for further information. Remember, your audience is listening to what you say as well as what you don’t say.

Team up with your key people in a dedicated ‘war room’ and enlist one spokesperson to deal with media and provide regular updates. It’s a good idea to get into a “rhythm” and advise your teams, stakeholders and media as to when they can expect to hear from you (even if there is no new information). For example, you may commit to making statements every 12 hours or at a specific time every day (as we are currently seeing with the NZ Government’s sharing of COVID-19 details).

Find closure and opportunity

Once the crisis has ended or deescalated, ensure you communicate this to media and your internal/external stakeholders – this may be in the form of a short message stating that the situation is now contained.

Provide details on how your organisation rectified the situation and thank any external aid you received (ie, Police, neighbours). It’s also a good idea to offer detail on how your organisation will move on from the incident – maintain an open dialogue with media.

Plan and prepare for the future

Implementing a crisis communications plan is the key to minimising the impact a crisis has on your business. We’re specialists in crisis communications and create comprehensive crisis communications plans and strategies to protect your brand’s reputation.

Some crucial aspects of a crisis communications plan are:

  • Stakeholder lists and audiences – who does your organisation affect?
  • Key media – who you need to speak to?
  • Testing out your ‘war room’
  • Training your spokesperson
  • Designating a chief compliance officer and other communications personnel to ensure your crisis communications objectives are successfully achieved

We’re also specialists in website copywriting and can create a ‘dark’ or ‘ghost’ microsite that your organisation can have on standby in the event of a crisis or emergency. Get in touch for more information about this and our wider crisis communications and brand reputation management services.

Rebecca Williamson
Written by Rebecca Williamson
An accomplished writer and editor, Rebecca has worked for NZ’s top-selling magazines and publications, and honed her PR communications skills in Melbourne. She brings extensive insider knowledge of NZ and international media, knows how to craft compelling copy, and can get your story or organisation noticed.