What Determines the Right Tone for Crisis Communications in PR?


    What Determines the Right Tone for Crisis Communications in PR?

    In the face of a crisis, striking the right chord with communication is critical, as a seasoned Public Relations Manager emphasizes the importance of transparency. Alongside expert perspectives, we’ve gathered additional answers that enrich our understanding of crafting effective crisis messaging. From aligning the tone with the severity of the situation to matching it to the urgency of the crisis, discover a spectrum of strategies that guide industry leaders and communicators alike.

    • Communicate Transparently in Crises
    • Balance Empathy with Assurance
    • Align Tone with Crisis Severity
    • Resonate with Audience Emotions
    • Consider Cultural Communication Norms
    • Follow Regulatory Communication Standards
    • Reflect Core Values in Crisis Tone
    • Match Tone to Crisis Urgency

    Communicate Transparently in Crises

    How your company or brand communicates during or following a crisis is of the utmost importance. Your followers, employees, fans, and fellow community members look to you as a trusted brand—and you don't want to diminish that trust. Crisis communications need to be handled professionally—but calmly.

    While you don't ever want to downplay the situation at hand, it's important to use your communications to explain what steps have been taken following the crisis, to prevent it from happening in the future, if possible.

    How you handle these communications can make or break your followers' trust and respect in your company, and it's important to communicate with enough transparency to demonstrate knowledge of what occurred, and provide enough details that the public needs to know they can continue to trust your brand.

    I have one example that occurred early on in my career: One of our client's locations experienced a gas explosion. Of course, members of the community and employees at this location immediately went to social media asking 'What was that noise?' and 'It sounded like something exploded!' As the brand's PR contact, our first step was to ensure all employees were accounted for and were safe. Our next step was to communicate to our contacts and community what had occurred, including time and location, that nobody was harmed, and that we were doing additional research to determine the cause, to make sure it would not happen again. Timeliness is also crucial when it comes to crisis communications. Even if you don't have all the details to share, it's critical to communicate quickly following the crisis. Again, this demonstrates transparency, which often equates to trust.

    Oftentimes, brands or companies try to hide the crisis—which is the worst thing you can do. More often than not, the hidden crisis will come to light.

    Olivia Bellon
    Olivia BellonPublic Relations Manager

    Balance Empathy with Assurance

    In the complex landscape of crisis communications, finding the right tone is crucial. It's a delicate balance between empathy and assurance, much like carefully navigating through the most challenging situations. Precision matters—every word carries weight—so choose them carefully. We should approach crisis messaging with a keen understanding of the gravity of the situation, ensuring our communication reflects an unwavering commitment to those we serve: the customer.

    Many years ago, I was working with a client in the food service industry. To bolster sales, they offered a very well-priced burger deal. The burger received high praise, and the promotion went viral in the region. The business owners had not considered the popularity of the promotion and did not have adequate staff and resources to keep up with the demand. They wanted to stop the promotion. I suggested keeping the promotion but using truth and a bit of fun to inform their clients of the situation.

    They started releasing posts through their social media channels that explained the huge demand for their burger deal and that staff were overwhelmed. They explained there would probably be a wait for their order. They also suggested doing take-out or visiting during off-peak hours to try the popular meal, as well as explaining that there was a park next door to enjoy some family time and cool shops to check out while waiting. The posts averted a disaster, clients were happy, and they had an opportunity to cross-promote other local businesses. I guess the staff made record tips during that time.

    David MaccoubreyCommunications Director

    Align Tone with Crisis Severity

    Determining the right tone and messaging for crisis communications means assessing the crisis's severity and context. In managing a product-recall crisis for a consumer-goods client, we adopted an empathetic and transparent tone, acknowledging the issue, apologizing for inconveniences, and outlining corrective actions. Through a combination of channels, including press releases, social media, and direct customer communication, we delivered a sense of urgency and responsibility. The messaging evolved based on real-time monitoring of public sentiment and media coverage, allowing us to incorporate positive updates and demonstrate resolution efforts. For me, this experience reinforced the importance of aligning the tone and messaging with the unique characteristics of each crisis.

    Matias Rodsevich
    Matias RodsevichFounder, PRHive

    Resonate with Audience Emotions

    When determining the right tone for crisis communications, one must carefully consider the feelings and reactions of the audience. An effective crisis tone is one that resonates with those affected, showing empathy and understanding of their concerns. It's crucial to communicate in a manner that aligns with audience expectations while also conveying the seriousness of the situation.

    Striking a balance between compassion and professionalism is key. Ensure that your message is tailored to the emotional state of your audience and encourages their trust in your handling of the crisis.

    Consider Cultural Communication Norms

    The cultural context is a significant factor in deciding the tonal appropriateness during a crisis. Every culture has its own set of norms and expectations regarding communication, especially during challenging times. Recognizing and respecting these cultural nuances can make the difference between a message that is well-received and one that is not.

    By adopting a tone that acknowledges cultural sensitivities, organizations can foster a better connection with their audience. Keep cultural considerations at the forefront to ensure your communication is respectful and effective.

    Follow Regulatory Communication Standards

    The regulatory environment often sets the groundwork for the formality required in crisis communications. Legal requirements can stipulate the type of language and tone that must be used when communicating during a crisis. Adhering to these guidelines not only ensures compliance but also maintains the credibility and legitimacy of the organization.

    It is essential to be aware of, and abide by, regulatory standards to avoid potential legal ramifications. Always consult the relevant regulations to guide the formality of your crisis response.

    Reflect Core Values in Crisis Tone

    An organization's core values can serve as a compass for selecting the tone during a crisis. These values reflect the principles and ethical standards that guide the company's behavior and communication tactics. By aligning the tone of crisis responses with these values, organizations demonstrate consistency and reinforce their brand identity.

    This can build trust and loyalty among stakeholders who expect a certain level of conduct. Let your corporate values lead the way in shaping a tone that is true to your organization's character.

    Match Tone to Crisis Urgency

    The severity of a crisis often calls for a tone that matches the level of urgency of the situation. In high-stakes scenarios, it is important that the communication reflects the seriousness and immediate nature of the event. A tone that is too casual can be perceived as dismissive, while an overly dramatic tone can create unnecessary panic.

    The primary goal should be to provide clear, concise information that prompts the appropriate response from the audience. Craft your communication to mirror the severity of the crisis and prompt decisive action.