Seven lessons from 30 years of crisis communications

There’s nothing like a dig through the archives to reflect on what changes – and what doesn’t – in the practice of corporate communications.

Recently I’ve been reviewing BBG’s crisis communication case studies from our work across the Asia Pacific over the past 30 years. We have assisted clients experiencing a range of different crisis situations including workplace accidents and fatalities, natural disasters, food contamination scares and corporate and financial crises.

Despite many different geographies, cultures and the advent of social media in more recent years, some of the key principles we adhere to have really stood the test of time from the early 1980s to today. Looking across a range of different crisis communications case studies, we can draw seven key lessons that are as relevant to crises today as they were when BBG was first established in 1983:

1. Talk only about the facts you know and never speculate – it only leads to misinformation

2. Put your most senior spokesperson, preferably the Chief Executive, at the scene and in front of the camera

3. Show empathy, be human and where appropriate, take responsibility – do all of this quickly

4. Demonstrate the actions you’re taking to resolve the crisis

5. Give updates to all of your stakeholders often and be organised about how this happens

6. Listen and respond to the feedback you’re getting

7. Rehearse for the worst – it can happen

The biggest change I’ve seen is the increasing need for both timeliness and transparency. In a social, digital world, news cycles are instantaneous and there is more pressure than ever on businesses to be transparent – in good times and bad. We are working with organisations to refresh and update their crisis communications procedures and ensure regular training across the management team.

While no one ever wants a crisis to happen, when it does, we want to make sure organisations are well prepared to look after their key stakeholders and ensure everyone is well informed. Our experience shows that, at the end of the day, you won’t be judged for having a crisis, you will be judged by how well you handle it.