Today’s recipe: The perfect tone for your crisis comms

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Today’s recipe: The perfect tone for your crisis comms

This is a modern take on an age-old recipe.

This is a modern take on an age-old recipe. People will relate to the familiar flavours of authenticity and clarity that make any communications dish great. At the same time, they should feel comforted by the special mix of assuredness and open-mindedness injected by the chef. In extraordinary times, it’s important we feed each other the right information in the right way to help recover as quickly as possible.


  • 1 cup Compassion
  • 2 tbs Concern
  • 2 tbs Optimism
  • 1 tsp Camaraderie
  • 1 bunch Transparency
  • A splash of Realness


1. Start with compassion for your audience

The first thing to remember with any crisis communications is who you are speaking to. Put yourself in their shoes and show some compassion for their situation. If you are addressing your employees, answer the questions they are asking. Hint: this is more likely to be “Will I have my job tomorrow?” than “How often is the leadership team meeting?”. This applies to all internal and external stakeholders. If the questions and the messages are different for each group, consider separate communications. Take into account what you’ve said to this group before and how they have responded, how timely the information is, how often you have communicated and in what ways.

EXAMPLE: NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard (3 April, 20:27) gets distracted by the journalist and loses sight of his message to NSW families impacted by the blunder.

2. Add a mix of concern and optimism

It’s not easy to get the right balance of concern and optimism, but it’s important you do. If the message is too dire, you can instil panic. If you are too optimistic, you won’t convince people to take the necessary action. It requires a realistic representation of the threat, followed by simple solutions for people to follow.

EXAMPLE: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (23 Mar) begins with the hard reality - “if we continue without intervention…tens of thousands of New Zealanders will die” and follows up by saying “We have a window and we’ve used it”.

3. Incorporate the realness

If there was ever a time to make those key messages your own, it’s now. Robotic communications make people nervous in times of crisis because it indicates that you’re not responding to the issue at hand. It’s ok to show some emotion and some humanity, whether it be through a smile, a furrow of the brow, an exclamation mark, a joke, a message from the little guy or through your actions. Don’t force it, just be yourself and stay true to the purpose and values of your organisation.

EXAMPLE: Who Gives A Crap injects its usual positivity and humour into its customer communications. Jaegermeister stays within its lane and uses its voice to launch a global initiative to support artists, bartenders and creatives.

4. Allow the camaraderie to rise

The burden of a crisis is usually shared, as is the responsibility to minimise the impact. In Australia, a request for cooperation will go further than a blunt order. It will help build trust and respect among stakeholders in the long term. This sentiment can be aided by allowing other voices to be heard. But don’t go overboard here or it can become corny.

EXAMPLE: When it comes to asking Australians not to hoard, Prime Minister Scott Morrison (18 Mar) scolds the public, while Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci (19 Mar, 2:12) provides guidance.

5. Finish it off with some transparency

Crises often catch you by surprise and evolve in unforeseen ways, which require you to continuously adapt. If you speak in absolutes, you could put yourself in a difficult position when the goalposts change. Be honest about what you know and what you’re working to find out.

EXAMPLE: US President Donald Trump has had to backtrack on COVID-19 on several occasions.

Serving Suggestion

Use video and audio formats to supplement your written content. It is quick, personal and will break through the clutter.

Published: 29/04/2020 Author: Tags: Back to News