Communication in crisis situations

With the outbreak of conflict in Ukraine, everything froze.TVs were pouring with news about the conflict, social media feeds started filling up with explicit opinions and images about it, and brands started asking the question, “what and how do we post in this situation?”

Do we drop everything and stick our heads in the sand?

Do we pretend it’s not happening and go ahead with the plan we devised?

Or do we learn to adapt our communication?

But how? How do we ensure that the way we communicate is congruent with the brand?

I found the same questions in the Upriserz community.

This article is peppered with useful information taken from a webinar created especially for the Upriserz community on how to communicate in times of crisis. Not just in the case of conflict, but in the context of any other crisis that may be on the horizon in the future – hopefully a distant one.

The information comes direct from Manuela Ciugudean, or Manu as we like to call her, a branding expert.

Manuela Ciugudean has over 15 years of experience in communications and branding. She also has an academic background in crisis communication. Over the years, she has worked with both public sector elected officials and private sector CEOs, business leaders and entrepreneurs.

When crises loom on the horizon, you as an entrepreneur, company or solopreneur, need to know how and what to communicate. Because silence in critical circumstances can bring less than pleasant consequences.

The questions you’ll find answers to in this article are:

  • What are the rules to keep in mind when communicating in a crisis?
  • How can you help your team at a time like this?
  • How do you communicate the help you offer? In this case, to refugees in Ukraine.

Before you go any further, we would like to mention that the geopolitical aspect was not detailed during the webinar. Rather, the discussion focused very much on the communication aspect.

All the ideas you find are not a perfect recipe to be taken for granted. Just a series of opinions based on Manuela and Lorand’s experience, which we confidently recommend you adapt to your brand identity.

What are the rules to keep in mind when communicating in a crisis?

Probably after learning about the conflict in Ukraine, you felt paralysed. You decided you wanted to communicate something along these lines, but you didn’t know where to start.

Everything that was happening and continues to happen is unprecedented and absurd. How can you communicate in such situations?

Manuela’s recommendation is to rephrase the question in why am I communicating?

Most of the time, during a crisis, you communicate to be with people.

With the people who support your brand. In these moments they are no longer customers or users. And the brand is no longer a brand, but a person or a number of people.

Basically, communication has to work on this principle: we are people talking to people.

In times of crisis, everyone wants two things: security and the certainty that they are not alone.

You as a brand, as a man, cannot promise security, especially in a situation like Ukraine.

Instead, you can communicate that you stand with the people of the brand. That you understand them.

You can’t promise them physical safety, but you can promise them emotional, mental and spiritual safety.

Before you communicate, make sure you know what you’re communicating.

Manuela said during the live broadcast that when a crisis arises it’s very important that the messages are clear. If there is no clarity at that moment, then you better not post.

When you can’t find clarity outside, look for it inside.

Manuela’s recommendation when it comes to clarity is to set up a crisis cell – where there’s one or more people who make sure they’re on top of trends and adapt communication accordingly.

A take-home idea: when the brand is silent, the brand’s people make assumptions.

Other ideas along these lines:

  • You have a responsibility to the people who like, subscribe, follow or buy a subscription. Don’t let them down.
  • Communicate more about their needs than sales.
  • Adaptability is more important than planning – the context can’t adapt to you, only you to it.
  • Find the best way to communicate with brand people. It can be webinars, live broadcasts or daily newsletters.
  • Be careful what you promise – don’t promise things that aren’t in your control.

How can you help the team at a time like this?

Another important aspect during a crisis is the people behind the brand.

And they in turn feel overwhelmed, lonely and scared. In these moments, you as the leader of the company must take a stand. You need to communicate with your team.

Be empathetic with your team members, assure them that you have their safety in mind, and even actively listen to their needs and fears. Be transparent.

Ways you can communicate with your team:

  • A meeting where you convey this message to them.
  • Email.
  • Or a short message on the platform you use to communicate.

No need for grand gestures in these cases. Just humanity. Such a step, no matter how small, brings about big and good changes in the team.

How do you communicate the help you offer? In this case, to refugees in Ukraine.

The mass exodus of Ukrainians trying to escape the terror of the conflict has led to a massive mobilisation. In addition to volunteers who dedicated their time and finances to helping the refugees, many companies stepped up to the plate and began communicating their efforts.

But often such gestures can be misinterpreted by brand people. Because they start from the premise that “so far you’ve done nothing and now suddenly you’re big saints.”

Manuela responds succinctly to these quibbles: grumblers will grumble anyway.

But before you promote the charitable work your company does, it’s important to consider the following:

  1. Define your company’s values.

The first step is to understand the motivation for the gesture and define the company’s values.

Analyze how these values relate to charitable decisions.

And answer the question: are company values communicated often and consistently? Do people know about them?

It’s important to have transparent communication. You don’t need bombastic and artificial communication, but simply to say: this is who we are, this is what we do.

  1. Link aid actions to certain points in the values.

Possibly your core value as an entrepreneur or brand is not necessarily charity. So it’s important to find a bridge between charitable actions and certain parts of your values.

I’ll give you a concrete example: we at Upriserz, within the team we have the value of helping each other. It’s not a value we communicate very often, but we mention it whenever we have the opportunity in community groups.

Surely there is such a value in your company that would help you provide transparency in your actions.

  1. Communicating long-term values

It’s important to build a long-term plan in which you communicate your values in times of calm, not just crisis.

It’s going to give a human dimension to the brand and it’s going to make it much easier for you to take certain actions in times of crisis.

Take-home idea: there will be grumblers on social media anyway. Some unintentionally. You can’t get to know a person on social media entirely. That’s why it’s important to learn to communicate clearly and transparently.

Other ideas you’ll find in the webinar:

  • How do you communicate with the artists you train in these times?
  • Is it advisable to launch products, campaigns, projects in times of crisis?
  • How to communicate to get the message across?

Before we end the article, we recommend that you:

  • Define your brand values.
  • Always be adaptable and flexible.
  • Have transparent and clear communication.
  • Communicate with the brand’s people.
  • Communicating with the people on your team.

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