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The Checklist for Effective Communication in a Crisis

March 01, 2021

Managing strategic communications in the middle of a crisis is one of the most—if not, the most—demanding challenges you can face. But should you ever find yourself in such an unenviable situation, you can take consolation in the fact that there are professionals like yourself who have been in the thick of at least one crisis and came out the other side to tell the tale.

And whether your own organization is currently working through a crisis—perhaps one even sparked by or related to COVID-19—or you simply lack a solid strategic communications crisis response plan, we felt the advice of those who have managed crisis communications would be invaluable.

That’s why we put out the call to communications experts around the world, asking for guidance on how to successfully navigate the crisis waters. We collected their sage words of wisdom and used them to compile this strategic communications crisis checklist. Complete all five tasks on this list and, within the next six months, you’ll be confident that you’re ready to manage whatever crisis comes your way.

Checklist item #1: Align your plan with your communications strategy

Review your strategic communications plan to ensure that ongoing efforts are aligned with your communications strategy. Remember to ask: What is the problem we’re trying to solve for the short- and long-term health of the organization?

Checklist item #2: Audit your monitoring systems

Conduct a thorough audit of your social and traditional media monitoring and measurement systems, look for bias, and adjust accordingly. Go beyond your top media list and keep your criteria as broad as possible to avoid narrowing your data filters.

Checklist item #3: Evaluate your audiences

Re-evaluate your audiences, their needs, and their behaviors. Mine their comments on social and traditional media channels to better understand their viewpoints. Conduct an informal survey or focus group to ensure your messages still resonate with their views and values.

An important note from the experts regarding audiences: A common mistake made while managing strategic crisis communications initiatives is to become too narrowly focused on corporate strategy and pushing an organization’s most commercially advantageous messages into the marketplace. Wrong move.

Your audiences care more about their issues and their problems than they ever will your profit margins and business problems. They’ll know when your communications efforts are self-serving. And when they do, things will get worse.

Checklist item #4: Codify your messaging

Secure agreement with your executive team and internal stakeholders on one unified set of messages related to the current crisis/crises impacting the organization. Go further by providing data insights and guidance to manage your organization’s reputation, then highlight what your audiences want and need.

Checklist item #5: Listen and adapt

Engage in active listening and use what you learn to deliver meaningful, actionable insights to your stakeholders and inform future iterations of your strategic crisis communications plan. Consider circulating a short weekly data digest to keep stakeholders informed and make real-time adjustments to your plan based on what you learn.

Tackle these 5 to-dos and you’ll be ready to handle any crisis—COVID-19 related and otherwise—that hits your organization. And if you’d like a little more help prepping, these six steps to managing strategic communications during a crisis are a great place to start.