Communicating in a Time of Crisis

By: Nic Sells

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted daily life around the world. Many large retail chains in America have shuttered their doors to slow the spread of the virus. Local health departments have banned dine-in options at restaurants—putting many servers and others out of jobs. And some entire states are on lockdown—only allowing residents to travel outside the home for necessary trips, such as those to grocery stores or medical facilities. This is truly an unprecedented time.

Many are anxious and nervous about the yet-to-be-seen outcome of this pandemic. But psychological and economical pains are not mutually exclusive to this most recent crisis. From natural disasters to financial crises, only one thing can quell fear, properly inform and keep things moving forward during trying times: effective communication. 

Providing a comprehensive communication plan with strategies and tactics for any possible scenario would be impractical. But here is the framework FORTHGEAR suggests to effectively communicate in times of crisis.

Three Tips for Effectively Communicating During a Crisis

Be Proactive

Communicating proactively means answering questions before they’re asked. This both improves relationships with your customers and helps ease anxieties. It’s wise to take a step back and realize this isn’t “business as usual,” then develop a plan for how best to communicate during a period of crisis.

Have empathy with your customers during crises. This means your messaging will need to shift from promotional to informational so you can provide value or answer questions and concerns for your audience. And don’t make the mistake of “hiding” promotional messaging under a thin veil of practical information—your audience will notice.

Rely on Your Core Values

Johnson & Johnson’s response to the 1982 Tylenol crisis shows how relying on your organization’s core message can help navigate treacherous waters. Now widely considered the benchmark of crisis communication, J&J won back public trust in just six weeks from a highly publicized case of Tylenol bottle tampering that led to the deaths of seven individuals. Much of J&J’s success in overcoming this potentially destructive crisis came from relying on the company’s founding credo—its moral responsibility to society beyond sales and profit.

This moral commitment led the company to recall its product across the county, stop all advertising, create safety packaging for future products, hold press conferences, establish a hotline for concerned consumers and more.

As J&J showed, relying on your organization’s core values can help navigate crises. Whether your company’s value proposition revolves around supporting the community or developing the individual, find how it relates to the crisis and lean on it to guide both communication and business tactics.

Don’t Leave Them Hanging   

Provide updates as soon as possible. Your audience is likely anxious; your communication can help to quell their worries. This will further establish consumer trust. Let your audience know you’re taking the crisis seriously.

Also, ensure your messaging is concise, compelling and consistent. Designate the most appropriate spokesperson and keep the messages coming only from them. Nothing can frustrate or concern your audience more than inconsistent messaging, both in terms of what’s being said and who’s saying it.


To keep your audience informed and lay worries to rest during a crisis, communicate proactively and often and rely on your organization’s core values. The global novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has upended daily life like few living people have ever witnessed. But it will end. And when it does, your company will reap the rewards of trust and authority developed through thoughtful crisis communication.

Nic Sells

I’m a Marketing Specialist at FORTHGEAR. From writing blogs to social media editorial calendars to vlog scripts, I approach everything I do with an eye on strategy. When I’m not in the office, you can find me cycling, hiking, fly fishing or . . . doing projects around the house.  

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