Lessons in Crisis Communication from Successful Companies

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Lessons in Crisis Communication from Successful Companies

In today’s fast-paced, interconnected business world, crises can happen at any time, and to any organization. From natural disasters and cyber attacks to product recalls and reputational issues, there are countless potential scenarios that can cause significant disruption and damage to a company’s reputation. In these moments, effective communication is crucial for mitigating the impact of the crisis and maintaining the trust and confidence of stakeholders. 

As an internal communication expert, it’s your role to help guide your organization through a crisis, ensuring that the right messages are communicated to the right people, at the right time. But what exactly does effective communication look like in a crisis? How can companies ensure that their messages are reaching stakeholders in a way that is transparent, empathetic, and authentic? In this article, we’ll explore best practices for effective communication during a crisis, drawing on real-world examples of companies that successfully navigated challenging situations through strategic and effective communication

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Lessons from Companies that Nailed Crisis Communication

Have a crisis communication plan in place: When a crisis occurs, time is of the essence. Companies that have a crisis communication plan in place are better prepared to respond quickly and effectively. A crisis communication plan should include contact information for key stakeholders, a list of potential scenarios and responses, and clear protocols for communicating with employees and the media. 

One great example of a company that had a crisis communication plan in place was Southwest Airlines. In 2018, an engine on one of their planes failed mid-flight, resulting in the death of a passenger. Southwest Airlines quickly activated their crisis communication plan, communicating frequently with their employees and the media. Their CEO, Gary Kelly, even appeared on national news programs to address the crisis. As a result, the company was able to quickly restore confidence in their safety procedures. 

Be transparent and authentic: During a crisis, stakeholders want to know what is going on, and they want to hear it from a reliable source. Companies that are transparent and authentic in their communication are more likely to earn trust and credibility with their stakeholders. 

A good example of a company that was transparent and authentic during a crisis was Airbnb. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruption in the travel industry, particularly for Airbnb. In response, the company immediately took steps to provide refunds to customers and introduced new cleaning protocols to ensure the safety of hosts and guests. Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky, took a transparent and authentic approach in communicating with stakeholders during the crisis, providing regular updates to hosts and guests and sharing information about the measures that Airbnb was taking to address the pandemic. Airbnb’s transparent and authentic communication helped to build trust with their stakeholders and maintain their reputation during a challenging time. 

Communicate frequently and consistently: During a crisis, stakeholders need to hear from the company frequently and consistently. Companies that communicate regularly with their stakeholders can help to reduce anxiety and uncertainty. 

Target is a perfect example of a company that communicated frequently and consistently during a crisis . In 2013, Target suffered a massive data breach that affected over 40 million customers. The company immediately launched a comprehensive communication campaign, including regular updates on their website, emails to customers, and frequent media appearances by their CEO. This consistent communication helped Target to mitigate the damage from the data breach and restore customer trust. 

Use multiple channels to reach your audience: During a crisis, different stakeholders may prefer to receive information through different channels. Companies that use multiple channels to reach their audience can ensure that their message is heard by as many people as possible. 

The Coca-Cola company used multiple channels to reach their audience during a crisis back in 2016. Coca-Cola faced criticism over allegations that they were deceiving the public about the health risks associated with their products. Coca-Cola responded by launching a comprehensive communication campaign that included a website, social media, and traditional media channels. This multi-channel approach helped Coca-Cola to reach a wide audience and address their concerns. 


In conclusion, effective communication is essential for navigating a crisis and maintaining the trust and confidence of stakeholders. By taking a proactive, strategic approach to communication, companies can demonstrate their commitment to transparency, empathy, and authenticity, which in turn can help them build and maintain strong relationships with stakeholders. Whether it’s through internal communication strategies, crisis communications plans, or targeted stakeholder outreach, companies that prioritize communication during a crisis are more likely to emerge stronger and more resilient. 

As an internal communication expert, it’s important to recognize that no two crises are exactly alike, and each requires a tailored approach to communication. However, by following the best practices outlined above, companies can lay the foundation for effective communication and build trust with their stakeholders. By prioritizing transparency, empathy, and authenticity, companies can demonstrate their commitment to their stakeholders, even in the face of adversity. Ultimately, effective communication during a crisis is not just about managing the situation at hand, but about building a foundation of trust and credibility that will serve the company well in the long term. 

If you would like to learn about how you can use Heed’s employee engagement platform to help your organisation during a crisis, visit our homepage.