Koroberi is a B2B integrated marketing agency located in the North Carolina's booming Triangle. Koroberi specializes in branding, content creation, PR, advertising and digital strategy.


We’d love to hear
from you!

236 S. Boylan Ave
Suite 100
Raleigh, NC 27603
919 438 2423

Crisis communications
best practices


A crisis is a defining moment for any brand. From the Deepwater Horizon BP oil spill to Boeing’s 737 MAX safety disaster, crises come in different shapes and forms. And while no one situation is alike, a brand’s response sets the tone, swinging toward unfavorable at best and negligent at worst.

Between social media and the 24-hour news cycle, an issue can rapidly escalate, gathering public attention and disrupting the normal course of business. And if left unchecked, the brand’s reputation and financial outlook can sustain lasting damage.

Pre-crisis preparation

Successful crisis resolution begins with a plan in place before an issue ever arises. This includes anticipating potential scenarios, proactively crafting thoughtful messaging and outlining response processes, with specific roles and responsibilities.

Earn goodwill

Crises might be unexpected, but they don’t exist in isolation. The context surrounding a crisis, including a brand’s longstanding reputation and documented positions and actions can influence public sentiment when a crisis does occur. Brands are a part of communities and acting as a responsible corporate citizen can cultivate trust and goodwill among consumers that can better position them to weather a storm.

Take, for instance, an industrial manufacturer that is accused of excessive emissions and pollution. Whether these claims are valid or not, an organization with a strong track record as a steward of the environment may fare better than one without such a history to refer back to.

Woman begins writing a pre-crisis plan on board

Public knowledge of a brand’s legitimate steps to uphold their values and support and serve their community can shape whether a crisis is perceived as truly representative of the brand, a misrepresentation or an isolated scenario.

Anticipate the unexpected

There are many ways in which concerns about safety, product integrity, ethics, security, financial issues and more could intersect with an organization’s operations. Identify and understand the factors with the greatest potential for risk for your business, and regularly reexamine those topics as they may change over time and the news cycle may introduce new topics of sensitivity. Geopolitical unrest, global health issues and social movements are just some of the recent forces that may dictate added caution.

Survey not only your business, but your competitors and the industry landscape more broadly as well. This can help you recognize areas of risk and provide early warning signs. Just because an issue emerges with a focus on another brand doesn’t mean that your business is exempt from the impact — if the issue gathers enough attention, interest in the topic can entangle your brand in the conversation too.

As you outline potential scenarios, you should clearly define what constitutes a true crisis for your organization, what audiences you will communicate with and through which channels. This may not be consistent for all crises, as exact circumstances will dictate the particular audience and communication tactics.

Proactively craft messages

With potential crisis scenarios identified, prepare well-structured holding or standby statements, which can be customized to reflect the nuances of each situation. Doing this in advance can save valuable time during a crisis, enabling swift action while ensuring messaging appropriately reflects your organization.
  • Acknowledgement – state the organization’s awareness of the event or issue. Do not use euphemisms.
  • Empathy – if there are victims or potential victims, express empathy.
  • Values – describe the organization’s values that will ultimately lead the response.
  • Approach – describe ways the organization will handle the situation, however basic, including what has been done or is currently underway.
  • Commitment – outline the commitments that you can make now, such as keeping stakeholders updated. Do not risk further damage to trust by making a commitment you cannot keep.

Form a crisis response team

Crisis response teams are usually led by the CEO with support from the head of public relations and legal counsel, though this will vary considerably depending on the scale and operating style of your organization. All team members should go through media training and screening, and in the event of a crisis, this is the group of people that should be fully knowledgeable of the situation.

Appoint one senior-level spokesperson to centralize the flow of information to the media and public. Ensure all public statements and information comes from that person using decisive, purposeful messaging. Remember to inform all crisis response team members who the designated spokesperson is and to direct any inquiries or questions that they receive to the appropriate individual.

Quiz time
TIP: Be honest about what you don't know
Know when to say, “I don’t have the answer to that question, but will get back to you.” This will do more to establish credibility and build confidence than speculation or an incorrect answer.

During a crisis response

When a situation arises, the first step is assessing whether you indeed have a crisis on your hands — what do you know and based on that information, does the incident qualify as a true crisis? If so, it’s essential to swiftly take appropriate action, including investigating what happened, monitoring public response, communicating with relevant audiences and following through on commitments to rectify the situation to the extent possible.

Monitor the situation

Investigate the state of public response to the crisis and note key media players publishing information. Utilize monitoring tools that scour social media, websites and news sources to create a holistic view of current sentiment along with questions from the public and your customers. This will aid in determining the volume and tone of public response, which questions need immediate answers, who you’re speaking to (industries, local communities, etc.) and how to best address these widespread concerns.

Young team plans how to handle an ongoing crisis in the office

Identify who the brand needs to address

Not all crises are front page incidents. Nor does their reach span worldwide or even nationwide. Brands must be responsive to important stakeholders and avoid being portrayed as suppressing information. However, spreading news of a crisis beyond this group and breaking the story across unaffected geographies or industries can risk unnecessary harm. Bad news sticks more than positive news, and in the hands of competitors, it can take off like wildfire. Consider this when determining how to deploy communications tactics.

Statement + action plan

Leverage the pre-drafted holding statements to prepare a public company statement that includes an acknowledgement and understanding of how this issue impacts communities and consumers. This is your chance to take ownership for company faults or shortcomings and share details on immediate actions you plan to take to correct and/or manage the situation.

Where possible when responding to media inquiries, decline camera interviews — written statements are a safer option that avoids the challenges of verbal miscommunication with sensitive subject matter.

Quiz time
TIP: Consider how a crisis will impact regularly planned communications
Understand options to pause pre-planned social media posts and pull ads. Continuing marketing and social media activities with a business-as-usual attitude in the midst of a crisis can appear tone-deaf.

Tips for communicating with media in a crisis

Always consider yourself on the record

Only sharing the information that you would while knowingly on the record will make it easier to communicate under pressure.

Communicate early and often

Studies* have shown that there is a “first-mover advantage” for the party that is the first to define the nature of a crisis, with the power to sway the interpretation.

Remain calm and courteous

Treat media relationships as mutually beneficial, not adversarial. Your attitude shapes the perceived response of your organization.

Tell the truth, without misleading half-truths

If you don’t know, admit that you don’t know. If you should know, provide assurance that you will identify the answer and promptly follow up.

Follow through with immediate change

Swiftly enact company policies and procedural changes in response to the crisis to show internal action is being taken. Doing so not only shows initiative to respond to the issue but also provides support to the public and consumers by addressing their concerns head-on.

Post-crisis analysis

To review the success and shortcomings of your crisis response, make a timeline of how the crisis developed, what actions were taken to address the issue and in what order. This is your opportunity to go over what you did well and what could have been done better.

Apply your findings to update your crisis communication plan — these are dynamic guides, not static rules — so adjust as needed to better defuse or manage the next crisis. If it never comes, you’re in luck, and if not, you’re prepared.

Young woman creates a detailed post-crisis wrap up
Are you equipped to communicate through a crisis?
We can help.