How to Lead During a Crisis

Crisis communications is an area of expertise within the public relations industry that deals with communicating during emergencies. PR professionals typically train for years to learn how to handle worst case scenarios.

But with the recent events of the past few months, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and racial equality protests, it’s now more important than ever for everyone to learn the basics of not only how to handle disruptive events, but also how to lead during crises.

Communication is at the heart of every company. Whether you handle communications yourself or hire a company spokesperson, success during a crisis comes down to how well the designated person leads. That leadership is a reflection of your company’s values, which need to be apparent in everything you do.

So, how exactly do you lead during a crisis?

People sitting around a table taking notes

4 Ways to Lead During a Crisis

1. Acknowledge the Situation

The first thing to do during a crisis is to acknowledge its presence. The worst thing to do is to simply ignore what’s happening and continue to schedule your typical marketing emails.

Today’s younger generations follow and support brands that lead by example and do good. Your daily marketing emails about special deals can wait during a crisis. Instead, send an email with a statement informing your audience about your stance on the situation and what you’re doing to help.

The same can be said with social media. In the middle of a crisis, certain things seem unnecessary. Recently, engagement patterns across social platforms have been down because people would rather focus on relevant, meaningful content. If you don’t crowd your feeds with unnecessary content, it allows more pertinent information to be shared and viewed.

Your actions in this time need to be especially purposeful or you may risk losing support from your key publics. 

2. Take Action

Do something about the situation (and remember that actions speak louder than words). It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what you should do — everyone else is in the same situation. But you can lead in times of crisis by being confident and meaningful in your actions.

Think about how your company can help the current situation. Can you donate to any causes that need funding? Can you partner with organizations that can help you take action? You don’t need to go above and beyond, but be proactive.

TIP: You may want to think about creating a crisis communication plan to prepare for future emergencies. Crises come without any warning, so having a set of guidelines and steps to take will help ensure an effective response.

3. Be Timely

During any crisis it’s important to be prompt with your responses and actions. Lead by example by being one of the first to respond. This may require more work because you need to gather reliable, up-to-date information from multiple sources. But a good leader should provide timely direction.

Stay on top of current events to ensure you don’t miss any pertinent information or speak out on important topics too late. That way you can assume control of a situation and the response.

4. Be Forgiving

A crisis isn’t fun for anyone so be forgiving towards your employees. It’s not a typical day, week or month, so it shouldn’t be treated as such. Crises affect everyone differently, and some may struggle more than others.

A great example of a company taking care of its employees is fellow B Corporation Patagonia. The clothing brand decided to close its stores in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and continued to pay its employees. Not everyone can financially make this decision, but companies should follow this example of truly caring for the well-being of its employees.

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