We are living - and communicating in - unprecedented times.

In situations like the coronavirus pandemic - or whenever there is a crisis - leaders need to get their messages out quickly, regularly and effectively. They need to cut through the noise with clear, competent messages.

We are living in unprecedented times. And in situations like these – when there is a crisis – leaders need to get their messages out quickly, regularly and effectively. They need to cut through the noise with clear, competent messages.

No, really. Sitting back is not an option. Not saying anything just creates a vacuum into which uncertainty, fear and rumours flow.

Leaders must step up. They must set the record straight, challenge misconceptions and deliver important news, in order to inspire confidence. At times like this, stakeholders expect to hear from the most senior leaders in an organisation – in person.

But before you put yourself out front, make sure you know the answers to these three questions:

  • Who are your stakeholders?

  • What are the channels you have to reach them?

  • What are the messages you want to deliver?

Then, consider our recommendations for communicating as a leader in any crisis; and in particular in this difficult situation brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Be visible. You’re a leader, so in the moment of crisis you need to be out there communicating with confidence and competence. At times like these you need to be seen. And no, a scanned four-paragraph letter with your signature at the bottom doesn’t count. Get over your fear of the camera and start talking to it.

Be honest. This is not a time for obfuscation. Tell people what you do know. Acknowledge what you don’t know (“when will we re-open?” is a good example of a question that needs a straight “we don’t know” answer). Explain what you’re doing to reduce the information deficit (“e.g. we’re working with the authorities”) and undertake to update as soon as you have news.

Keep your messages simple. In a crisis situation people can get information overload. At the moment your stakeholders will be inundated with many sources of information. You need your messaging  and your crisis comms to be straightforward, and cut through the noise.

Ensure that you have a good grasp of detail. Don’t just announce- explain and back up your statements with detail. Know your facts and statistics. Take your stakeholders through the steps that brought you to a decision- this will increase your credibility.

Be regular. Let stakeholders know that you’ll be updating regularly. Try to update according to a routine.

Be concerned and empathetic. Put people at the centre of your thinking and your crisis communications. Acknowledge the difficulties of those who are undergoing hardship. Emphasise that your organisation is focused on people.

Use positive, proactive language where possible. Cite developments, recovery and details of progress. Show people how they can help themselves and the organisation. If appropriate, give them “instructing information” on what they should be doing.  Here is a good example- from the Irish Minister for Health.

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Media training is crucial. Rehearse interviews with your team and media trainers. This does not mean side-stepping the issues. It means you have thought through your responses and show competence and clear thinking, no matter what the question.

Look smart, be calm. You don’t have to be in a suit if you’re recording a message from your home, but you should be well groomed and bright-eyed, and exude calmness. You might think being dishevelled and stressed-looking says “I’m working hard” but it can lead to a lack of trust.

Keep your eye on the future. You are rebuilding for a post-Covid 19 world. The events we are living through now will shape the next 10 years. People will remember how you and your company behave. Let that inform every step you take.


We hope you find these tips useful. And remember that the HWM team are working really hard to support our clients with their crisis communications and response. We’ve created online crisis comms messaging support and training workshops so you’re confident, calm and capable as you lead from the front.

Get in touch to see how we can create a customised programme for you and your organisation.