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The Four Pillars of Crisis Communication: What, How, When and Where

By September 15, 2023No Comments

In the world of crisis communications, it’s easy to focus solely on the message—what you will say to manage a situation effectively. While the message itself is crucial, the framework in which it’s delivered—how, when, and where you communicate—can dramatically affect its effectiveness. Let’s break down these four pillars and understand why they are the linchpin of successful crisis management.

What: The Core Message 

The essence of any communication lies in ‘what’ you are trying to convey. In a crisis, the core message needs to be succinct, clear, and transparent. People are looking for answers, reassurances, or at least some form of acknowledgment that their concerns are understood and are being addressed. The message should also be tailored to the audience’s needs and understanding. Too much jargon or glossing over details can lead to further confusion and mistrust. 


  • Prioritize transparency and honesty. 
  • Avoid jargon and communicate in a language the audience understands. 
  • Make the message action-oriented whenever possible.

How: The Method and Tone 

The ‘how’ encompasses both the method of communication—be it a press conference, a social media post, or an internal memo—and the tone in which the message is delivered. The urgency and severity of the crisis often dictate the method. For example, a cybersecurity breach that compromises user data may necessitate an immediate press release and customer emails, while the recall of a consumer product might start with a social media announcement followed by a more comprehensive outreach strategy. 

The tone must be aligned with the gravity of the situation. Striking the right balance between empathy and authority can instill confidence and manage public sentiment more effectively. 


  • Assess the gravity of the situation to choose the right method. 
  • Adapt your tone to be empathetic yet authoritative.

When: Timing is Everything 

Even the most perfectly crafted message can lose its impact if not timed well. Releasing a statement too quickly without gathering all the facts can backfire, while waiting too long can allow rumors and speculations to fester. The ‘golden hour’ in crisis management often varies depending on the specific situation, but the rule of thumb is to communicate as quickly as feasible, without sacrificing accuracy or completeness. 


  • Don’t let the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of the ‘good’—it’s better to release an initial, well-thought-out statement than to wait too long. 
  • Keep stakeholders updated with new information as and when it becomes available.

Where: The Channel of Delivery 

The ‘where’ is about selecting the most effective platform to disseminate your message. An organization has multiple channels at its disposal—official websites, social media platforms, press releases, internal emails, video platforms, etc. The choice of channel depends on your target audience. Customers might look to social media for real-time updates, while investors may prefer press releases or official statements, and stakeholders and internal audiences may look for an initial email or post on an internal hub. 


  • Match the channel to the target audience. 
  • Use multiple platforms, if necessary, but ensure the message remains consistent across all.

In the chaotic landscape of a crisis, the tendency may be to fixate on the ‘what’—the message itself. But seasoned professionals understand that how, when, and where you communicate are equally vital in shaping the public’s perception and trust. By being intentional about your strategy and considering all four pillars, organizations and companies can navigate the challenging waters of crisis communication more effectively, mitigating damage and leading to a faster recovery. 

Sinclair Public Affairs

Author Sinclair Public Affairs

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