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Words Matter: Good Writing is the Essence of Successful Crisis Communication

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Gracefully and successfully maneuvering through a challenging situation with your reputation intact is called crisis communication for a reason. The key is effective communication. And effective communication arises from good writing.

While you decide who will be your team leader, choose your spokesperson, appoint your legal counsel, identify your content experts and determine other people who will be involved in managing a crisis, don’t forget an often-overlooked part of your team - the writer who will create content, from key messages and letters to stakeholders, to social media posts, media statements and Q&As.

Your crisis communications strategy should include a writer who:

  • Understands your business: Writers typically have expertise in specific areas and one who knows your business will have the knowledge to hit the ground running without extensive backgrounding - especially important when you’re in crisis mode. If you’re a hospital dealing with a medical mistake that led to patient harm, clearly you want a writer who understands the healthcare system and how mistakes can occur, as well as how they are resolved. A zoo that has lost an animal wants a writer who understands animal welfare and the nonprofit world. You get the idea.

  • Asks questions, collects the facts and listens: A good writer will ask the right questions to unearth all the facts and then listen carefully to the answers to understand your concerns and goals, working with you to craft messages that meet your objectives while addressing stakeholder and media questions.

  • Plays the tough reporter: During a crisis, everyone from reporters to Facebook posters will make assumptions and jump to conclusions. A good writer will challenge you during the message development process and help you think through effective answers to the inevitable difficult questions. Writers who are former journalists know what reporters will ask and can help you develop truthful and authentic answers to tough questions that are more likely to resonate with media and your stakeholders.

  • Thoughtfully crafts your messages: Communicating through a crisis has become even more challenging with the advent of social media. A good writer ensures messages evoke empathy and honesty as well as your expertise and dedication to finding a resolution. He or she also develops content that is less likely to be taken out of context, for example noting your team is “reviewing” rather than “investigating” a situation and that you are “sorry” about a situation but not that you “regret” it. These small differences can have a big impact.

  • Works quickly and until the job is done: During a crisis, time is of the essence. Good writers hit the ground running and work efficiently and hand in hand with you to develop materials in a timely manner, regardless of the hour.

A robust crisis communications plan is a necessity for any organization. But if your plan doesn’t include a good writer as a key team member, all your other planning and hard work could fall short if (when) a crisis erupts.