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Crisis communication is sometimes considered a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation. These challenges may come in the form of an investigation from a government agency, a criminal allegation, a media inquiry, a shareholders lawsuit, a violation of environmental regulations, or any of a number of other scenarios involving the legal, ethical, or financial standing of the entity.
Crisis communication can include crafting statements, known as “messages,” often tested by research and polling. A rapid response capability—pioneered by the 1992 Clinton-Gore campaign operatives and refined during Bill Clinton's eight years under attack by his political adversaries while in the White House, has also become an essential element of crisis communication. Additional tactics may include proactive media outreach to get messages and context to the media, identifying and recruiting credible third-party allies who can attest to the company’s side of the story, and striking first, not waiting to be hit.
Crisis communication is a part of larger process referred to as crisis management though it may well be a major tool of handling a crisis situation in government, organization or business.
Crisis communication is sometimes considered a sub-speciality of business continuity. The aim of crisis communication in this context is to assist organizations to achieve continuity of critical business processes and information flows under crisis, disaster or event driven circumstances.
Effective crisis communication strategies will typically consider achieving most, if not all, of the following objectives:
- Maintain connectivity
- Be readily accessible to the news media
- Show empathy for the people involved
- Allow distributed access
- Streamline communication processes
- Maintain information security
- Ensure uninterrupted audit trails
- Deliver high volume communications
- Support multi-channel communications
- Remove dependencies on paper based processes
By definition a crisis is an unexpected and detrimental situation or event. Crisis communication can play a significant role by transforming the unexpected into the anticipated and responding accordingly.
Some of the most effective recent examples of crisis communication include Richard Branson's (Virgin) and John Armitt's (Network Rail) dignified press conference after the Grayrigg rail disaster of 2007 and US Airways handling of the media after their crashlanding on the Hudson river.
- Communicate magazine Masters of Disaster, Communicate magazine, June 2009
- Crisis Management and Communication Entry Essential Knowledge Project from the Institute for Public Relations
- International Research Group on Crisis Communication Publications and crisis institutions database at Ilmenau University of Technology (English pages available)