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What Is Crisis Communication, Why Is It Important & How Do You Create a Plan?

  • Human Resources
  • Article
  • 6 min. Read
  • Last Updated: 12/12/2023

A team of employees develop a crisis communication plan

Table of Contents

Emergencies don't follow agendas. Although you can't control when or how a crisis occurs, you do have control over how your business will manage one. When an unexpected interruption or negative event strikes, having an established crisis communication plan and strategy can help your business stay focused and agile in its response and communications to achieve the best possible outcome.

What Is a Crisis Communications Plan?

Crisis communication is an organized structure of managing and responding to unexpected, disruptive, or damaging events to your business. A crisis communications plan details the communication channels, systems, protocols, and procedures triggered when such an event occurs.

Due to their surprising nature, crises are practically synonymous with chaos. But when established during smooth operations, an emergency communication plan can help to eliminate the surprise by anticipating what could happen and how to respond.

Every plan should include specifics on communicating with employees, customers, the public, shareholders, media, and any other key stakeholders with timely, accurate, and relevant information. Think of it as a communications blueprint that expects the unexpected and works to mitigate the situation.

Crisis Communication Examples

As a business crisis can come in many forms a comprehensive strategy should account for various circumstances. Remember that in some situations, you will have to work within the constraints the emergency is imposing, such as lack of power or other technological disruptions.

Here are some crisis communication plan examples and scenarios:

Natural Disasters and Extreme Weather

Hurricanes, blizzards, tornados, flooding, wildfires, and the like can impact your business differently. Checking in on employee safety and informing them how to respond to disasters, connecting with maintenance staff, your PR and IT teams along with any other key stakeholders, and setting up a public-facing crisis communications strategy should be incorporated into your guidelines.

Public Safety

Large- and small-scale crises such as public health concerns, or environmental disasters such as contamination and toxic spills can and do happen more often than you might think. Have a plan that guides your workers and informs your customers of how your business will operate.

On-Site Disasters

Warehouse theft, fires, and localized power outages can interrupt your operations, and key stakeholders must know the plan of action. In addition to connecting with your internal workforce, identify who will inform local police and first responders and how they will do it.


Cyberattacks continue to plague small and mid-sized businesses. Informing customers and employees on how you plan to ensure cybersecurity in the future is critical. An effective cybersecurity plan is the key to protecting your business and customers as well as empowering your employees.

Product Recalls

In the event of a product recall, have a smooth line of communication ready to help reassure customers that their health and safety are paramount. Doing so can help safeguard your company's reputation.

Reputation Crises

It's an uncomfortable situation, but in the event of misconduct or illegal activity by one of your employees, especially a senior manager, have a detailed plan to minimize negative effects and restore trust. A reputation crisis can also occur if a marketing campaign or other business decision is interpreted as a faux pas and draws ire from the public.

Why Is Crisis Communication Important?

A crisis communication plan may help expedite how quickly your business responds, whether through emails, messages, advertising, social media, action in the community, or a spokesperson. Moreover, a planned response may represent an organized and unified voice and effort, which can help you regain control over a situation.

Confronting a difficult issue proactively can help protect soft assets such as brand reputation, customer loyalty, and employee satisfaction. These can directly impact short- and long-term sales and revenue. An intentional no response can also be a valid plan of action, especially if the response risks deepening or adding unnecessary, negative drama to a situation, risking further escalation.

4 Stages of Crisis Communication

It can be overwhelming to think of a crisis in its entirety. There may be many moving parts to a communication plan focused on an event that may occur suddenly, unpredictably, and quite possibly at the worst possible time. Then there is the crisis itself: each type brings unique circumstances. For instance, reputation damage control from a marketing misstep differs from a crisis stemming from equipment malfunction or operational error.

One way to organize your plan is to divide it into different crisis communication stages. While the exact nature of an emergency may vary, each one moves through the following stages:


Pre-crisis refers to the time before a crisis occurs. Use this period of calm to prioritize putting your crisis communication plan together. Determine who will manage a particular emergency and who needs to be notified with what information. Organize a communication tree and decide which channels of communication will be used — text, email, phone calls, organizational apps, or other. Draft templates for responses to different audiences, such as press releases, emails, social media posts, or even a news or blog post if appropriate. Develop crisis management team protocols so members know exactly what to do as a crisis unfolds.

Pre-crisis is also the time to practice drills and dry runs or simulations. This will help familiarize staff and team members with their roles in an action plan and test the plan for effectiveness while exposing weak spots and vulnerabilities.

Crisis Response

This is when a crisis emerges, and your business activates its crisis communication plan. People will need information during an emergency, and your communication preparations can help you get the right information to the right people promptly and efficiently. So, how should a company communicate during a crisis? During these early hours, your team should prioritize safety, communicate accurate information, and address people's concerns.

Your public relations or marketing team should monitor communications to ensure a consistent message and voice across media channels. In the unfortunate event of injury or death, which can bring about great distress in the workplace, be prepared for the possibility of bringing in mental health counselors to advise and comfort members of your team. In any private or public communications, express sympathies in a way that is genuine, not rote.

Crisis Assessment

Because no two crises are alike, consider forming a crisis management team that is prepared to monitor and assess the crisis as it develops, regularly gathering and verifying information. This way, they can determine the scope of the crisis, make necessary adjustments in communications, and quickly identify any additional issues that may surface because of the crisis, such as any changes in public perception towards your business.


After the crisis has passed, this is the time to analyze what happened along with the effectiveness of your crisis communication plan. What worked? What went wrong? What would you do differently next time? While the memory and lessons are fresh, this is the best time to make adjustments.

Crisis Management Strategies

Your crisis communication plan management may hinge on a single strategy or a combination. Here are some of the more common strategies that businesses use to manage a crisis:


Sometimes, a crisis can start small, such as an accusation from a disgruntled employee or customer. Working with a professional mediator can help bring resolution before the issue escalates.


In the event of a misstep on the part of your business, whether it's a human or technological error, it's critical to step up and take responsibility. Not only will a spokesperson put a human face to your business, but that individual can ensure consistency in your business brand and voice. Having a human being who is also an excellent communicator be the face of your business may help the media and the public relate to, ask questions of, and be assured of the intentions of your company.


Gathering and reading feedback from employees, customers, or the public can help you recognize when an issue is heating up. This allows you to take the necessary measures to prevent further escalation and a full-blown reputation crisis.

Preventative Damage Control

Don't wait for a crisis to push your business into a constant mode of reacting to negative events. Your business can take proactive measures. For example, installing security software, keeping employees updated on internet protocols concerning your business, and even establishing a device policy can go a long way to protecting your business.

Social Media Management

These days, a business operates in real life and online. Public opinion on social media can turn in an instant, both for good and bad. Monitor social media engagement and have a plan ready if a post or comment turns sour.

How To Create a Crisis Communication Plan

During a disaster, a crisis communication plan should serve as the source of truth in managing it. It should outline who does what and how, and provide procedures, contact information, and templates for communications. Creating a crisis communication plan helps ensure swift and coordinated actions to prevent or respond to a crisis. Use the following steps as a guideline:

1. Determine Your Risks

Determine the risks your business faces and the crises that could arise. Then, figure out what your goals and outcomes are for each of these scenarios. Doing this can help you stay focused on the purpose of your plan when you assemble and outline strategies for each.

2. Who Are the Stakeholders?

Each crisis may have slightly different stakeholders. Every event will likely include your employees, though some may have more active roles than others, such as your CEO or public relations team. There may be other stakeholders depending on the event. A public safety concern may involve first responders and government officials. A financial crisis should include clients and investors. Anticipate involvement from the public media and social media.

3. Organize the Communication Tree

Organize a systematic flow of communications and chain of command to keep communications clear and efficient. This way, regardless of who identifies a crisis, they know who to contact. It may be their manager or a crisis team point person, depending on the nature of the event. Every person should know their role, responsibilities, and procedures for the crisis. If there are any specific tasks, assign them to the appropriate individuals or teams and establish a hierarchy for decision-making.

4. Build Your Templates

Stress can run high during a crisis. Identify all your communication channels in advance and develop templates for each. Doing so can add structure and organization when employees need it most. Drafting templates during calm periods also allows you to rework and refine your messaging.

5. Engage Your Employees

Each of your employees is an important part of your team and you want them to be invested in keeping your business running smoothly. As you develop your crisis communication plan, solicit their input for ideas, concerns, and best practices. Not only will engaging your employees help reassure them that you are watching out for everyone, but it helps them become familiarized with the plan, which can help remove the uncertainty and doubt that arises during a crisis.

Make Sure Your Business Is Prepared for a Crisis

Ultimately, a crisis communication plan equips your business with the right information and the knowledge to use it when needed. Expediting emergency response times while maintaining smooth and orderly operations can go far in keeping your business and your people safe while minimizing damage and lost productivity.

Professional HR services can give you insights, advice, and technological management to help you create a crisis communication plan that's right for your business. Obtaining business insurance can be a proactive way to protect your business, property, and employees.


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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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