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Prepare ahead for stakeholder communication during a crisis

01 Jun, 2020 Issues and crises, Reputation, trust, stakeholder relations

Success in crisis management depends largely on how quickly and accurately your organization communicates with its stakeholders. Stakeholders have something at risk, and therefore something to gain or lose as a result of your organization’s activity. By using their influence, stakeholders hold the key to the environment in which your organization operates and therefore its subsequent financial and operating performance.

During a crisis your organization has to look at itself from your stakeholders’ perspective because stakeholders will be most concerned at how the crisis incident will affect them. They are expecting your organization to communicate with them, so it is vital to be proactive if possible. Developing a stakeholder relations management strategy around crisis simulations will be a great help to guide the corporate actions when a crisis does hit.

The coronavirus pandemic has added a whole new worldwide dimension to the concept of crisis management, and it has also underlined the vital importance of communicating effectively with stakeholders as management realize the difficult position of their organization as a result of the pandemic. More about that in other articles.

Typical stakeholder groups

Typical stakeholder groups to take into account include:

  • Adversarial groups
  • Bankers
  • Brokers, investment advisers
  • Business leaders
  • Community leaders
  • Competitors
  • Consumer action groups
  • Contractors
  • Creditors
  • Customers/clients
  • Directors
  • Employees at all levels and locations
  • External advisers
  • Families of employees
  • Franchisees
  • Financial markets
  • Government regulators and utilities
  • Insurance companies
  • Investors
  • Law enforcement agencies
  • Licensees
  • Neighboring residents and businesses
  • News media
  • NGOs
  • Owners of the properties on which your organization’s operations are located
  • Politicians
  • Regulatory officials
  • Senior management
  • Shareholders
  • Suppliers
  • Unions

Obviously the key stakeholders vary according to the organization and the circumstances of each crisis. However, the concerns of each broad group can be identified well ahead of any crisis. For instance:

  • Employees want their families to know they are safe, as would emergency and medical workers.
  • Families of victims want progress reports on their loved ones and want to know what happened in the incident.
  • Directors and senior management want to know the big picture information about the incident and the impact on the viability of your organization.
  • Community leaders want to know sufficient resources are being devoted to the crisis response and victims, and that the organization is showing leadership and has the incident under control. They need information they can pass on to people they think should know about the crisis, and they want to express their concern.
  • Politicians want to inform their constituents, review regulations and laws for adequacy in the light of the crisis, and want to have the opportunity to express their concern.
  • Peak industry bodies want to know about the business issues such as the impact on your organization’s revenue, any legal liability, when the organization will return to business and what protection was in place for employees.
  • Finance sector stakeholders want to know the impact on revenue and profitability and any likely future financial implications. Such stakeholders include creditors, suppliers, insurance companies and bankers.
  • News media want access to information and to spokespersons so they can report within their deadlines.
  • Other stakeholders want to be included in decision-making relevant to them, and want access to information about the crisis.

None of the stakeholder groups may start out as antagonistic, but each may quickly become an enemy if the contact is handled badly or ignored. Each group will need consistent, reliable and credible information quickly.

The stakeholder groups affected by the crisis need to be prioritized by their importance to the future of your organization. Even though the news media may be clamoring for attention, it is crucial to attend to the needs of the key stakeholder groups first. Generally it is best to make the key priority your own directors, management and employees because they in turn will have to respond to many other people when news of the crisis spreads.

The main understanding they are seeking is that your managers are effectively dealing with the situation, and operations are on the way back to normality. The best overall principle is that those who normally deal with a particular set of stakeholders should continue to communicate with their stakeholders about the crisis. This should be done as soon as possible with information that is as accurate as possible.

Employees should be the main priority

In times of crisis, clear lines of communication should be established to reach employees at all levels and in all locations. A procedure should also be set up for dealing with employee problems relating to the event. In many crises, employee issues emerge as the most important factor.

Questions need to be resolved by the public relations department so you can inform other stakeholders about:

  • Where employees can obtain information – from their usual manager or from special telephone lines, meeting rooms, notice boards or other sources
  • Whether there is a monitoring system for post-traumatic stress of employees
  • If there are services available for families of victims
  • Whether transport is needed for victims and their families.

Planning should take into account ways to continually update information during a crisis. For every message to the media, there should be a prior message to employees. These can be distributed in face-to-face briefings by managers and supervisors, in mass meetings in a public venue, via telephone hot lines, text messages, Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels, through telephone messages to homes, and by progress statements handed out at gates or entrances, via local radio, by email and on the company website, intranet and extranet.

All information about names, injuries or cause of death must not be released until authorized. The authorization process should be an integral part of the crisis planning, especially at isolated locations.

Your management should have ways to gain emergency access to employee records so that families can be contacted quickly where there are serious accidents. The speed and care with which an organization deals with a family can be a source of great public and media focus.

About the author and editor Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from

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