Crisis Communications: Write to inform with empathy during tough times

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Crisis communications 101: Write to inform with empathy during tough times

It’s been over a year since COVID-19 became a global event. Companies big and small have faced hard questions: Should we address the pandemic? What should we say? How should we say it?

Back in those first few weeks, it felt like every business under the sun was putting out some twist on the same message: “In these uncertain times, we’re here for you…”

But those times are (thankfully) behind us. We’ve all learned valuable lessons about what works and what doesn’t work during a crisis. After a year spent helping clients communicate honestly and with empathy to their stakeholders, here are four points of insight from the Flint Group team.

Lead with the facts.

Times of crisis bring torrents of opinion and speculation. Everything from shared Facebook and Twitter posts to chats with your next-door neighbor. But that’s not what clients, partners or internal members want from your organization. They want stability. Reassurance. Peace of mind.

Start with information from conventional news sources, government agencies like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or cite trusted individuals within your industry. Maybe there’s even a top-level leader within your organization who can deliver these messages and tailor them for a local audience.

Show concern for your audience.

A little empathy goes a long way—it can be the difference between connecting with stakeholders and falling flat amongst all the noise. Here are three quick tips:

  1. Know WHO you’re writing to (age, location, etc.)

COVID hit specific demographics and regions harder than others. The concerns of a New Yorker might be very different than a rural Midwesterner.

  1. Acknowledge their challenges rather than yours.

Admit you don’t know what everyone is going through. How could you?

  1. Write like a human, not a robot.

We’ve bonded over uncertainty. It’s ok not to know what comes next, or even what’s coming now. Remain transparent about what you do know and what you don’t know. And convey to your audience when you may know more.

What’s brought the most joy during COVID? Cute puppies and children interrupting Zoom calls, of course! Human moments. Don’t shy away from connection.

Explain what you’re doing to improve the situation.

This should be the main focus of your organization’s crisis messaging. During COVID, we’ve seen many great examples of companies stepping up. Crocs and Allbirds both donated shoes to frontline workers. Apple gave masks, Adobe offered free software for distance learning and the list goes on.

When in doubt, start small and local. Positive action within your stakeholders’ community will resonate with them whether they benefit directly or not.

End with a clear, informative CTA.

If the previous point was about what you’re doing to make things better, the CTA is about how your reader can benefit from it or help build support.

For a new initiative, offer a landing page with updates and links to more information or next steps. If you’re offering financial or medical assistance, be clear about who qualifies, what they are getting and how to apply.

The one key takeaway: Be transparent and honest.

More crises will come and go. Instead of shooting from the hip, take a breather, remember the basics, and use these communication guidelines to establish a new sense of trust and purpose around your organization.


Want more guides on navigating your business through a pandemic? Check out Flint Group’s COVID-19 resources for businesses.

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Madison Quamme

As the public relations manager, Madison leverages a strategic approach as she plans tactics to effectively communicate with audiences across various channels. Driven by relationship cultivation, Madison serves as a trusted partner to clients, as they nurture connections with their stakeholders. She brings passion and experience in strategic planning, internal and external corporate communications, public positioning and reputation management. Prior to joining Flint, Madison served as an account manager at Ironclad Marketing, a public relations and marketing firm focused in heavy equipment. She was responsible for providing strategic insight for clients as well as quarterbacking and executing annual marketing plans. Additionally, she brings experience in the civil engineering and healthcare industries.

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