Crisis Management Series: A Guide to Crisis Communications


In April 2022, Flutterwave, a leading Nigerian fintech company providing payment services to global merchants, was faced with a crisis when its CEO Olugbenga Agboola was accused of sexual harassment and employee bullying by a former employee. For days, the company was silent, failing to address the claims.

Negative perceptions and damaging allegations can easily escalate into full-blown crises, especially for high-profile companies. When public trust is on the line, stakeholders demand transparency and responsibility from leaders. Proactive, compassionate communication is essential to maintain trust and integrity because staying silent or defensive fans the flames.

Rather than delaying its response, if Flutterwave had promptly acknowledged the allegations, expressed concern, and outlined steps for an internal investigation and potential corrective action, it would have shown accountability and a commitment to ethical conduct. This transparent approach could have mitigated the spread of rumours and fostered trust during this difficult time, demonstrating respect for its stakeholders, including employees, customers, and investors.

In contrast, PiggyVest demonstrated proactive crisis management in 2021 when rumours circulated that the digital financial institution had lost ₦2 billion (Two Billion Naira) in an alleged fraud scheme. Before the rumour could spread, the company proactively engaged its customer base to address concerns head-on, which helped strengthen trust and reinforced its reputation. The company's proactive, timely communication showed it valued its customers and took their interests and perceptions seriously.

Crisis Communication

Crisis communication refers to the strategic communication carried out by an organization when faced with situations that threaten its reputation, operations, financial health, or relationships with stakeholders. The main goal of crisis communication is to limit the negative impacts it could have on the organization and maintain trust and credibility with stakeholders.

Crisis communication is not just about damage control; it is turning a potential disaster into an opportunity to strengthen relationships. Openly addressing an issue allows a company to take control of the narrative, preventing speculation and misinformation. It also shows stakeholders the company is actively seeking solutions, building confidence in their leadership and values. 

What is a Crisis Communication Plan?

A crisis communication plan is essential for organizations to handle unexpected events effectively. This strategy outlines how the company communicates during crises, both internally and externally. It serves as a roadmap for clear and prompt communication to stakeholders, employees, media, and the public. It also guides and equips communications personnel or teams with strategies to address negative publicity.

Developing a crisis communication plan requires careful consideration of several core elements that serve as the foundation for a strategy that not only addresses crises but also turns them into opportunities for growth and resilience.

Core Elements of Effective Crisis Communication 

  1. Crisis Communication Team

Establishing a dedicated crisis communication team before issues arise allows businesses to act decisively. This cross-functional team, independent of the broader crisis management team is tasked with formulating communications strategies for managing crises effectively.

This team takes into account all facets of the business or company operations that a crisis could impact; using this holistic view, they can establish protocols for prompt analysis, communications, and response for different scenarios. Once protocols have been established, designated spokespersons should be assigned and given extensive training, to properly engage and interact with stakeholders during a crisis.

  1. Scenario-Specific Messaging

To effectively prepare for crises, it is important to have strategies for different situations. Each crisis is different, so it is best practice to have specific plans for different scenarios. By preparing for the specific demands of each scenario ahead of time, businesses can respond more quickly and effectively when a crisis arises.

For example, in March 2022 when Bento Africa's ex-CEO was publicly accused of workplace misconduct, the company responded by temporarily relieving him of duties. However, an effective response to a security breach, like the one Patricia experienced, would involve messaging focused on transparency around investigation efforts.

  1. Develop and Deliver Your Message

Developing a clear and concise message that addresses the situation head-on indicates a commitment to transparency and accountability. However, getting that message out quickly and effectively during a crisis is critical. 

Here are a few tips for delivering impactful messaging:

  • Consider using multiple communication channels - press releases, emails, social media - for broad reach. This engages stakeholders rapidly.
  • Leverage designated spokespeople to disseminate consistent, strategic messaging.
  • Acknowledge the issue upfront and share action steps underway.
  • Employ sincere, straightforward language and tone of voice tailored for each audience.
  • Monitor public response to adapt messaging as needed.
  • Maintain open communication to rebuild trust.
  1. Monitor and Adapt Messaging

Communications effectiveness is best understood through real-time monitoring. To gauge impact during crises, businesses should track media mentions and messaging coverage, social media sentiment and engagement, and overall public opinion and reactions.

This data provides valuable insight into communication strategy effectiveness and highlights how stakeholders are responding as events unfold. With real-time tracking, businesses can adapt approaches accordingly, so if a message produces negative reactions or confusion, timely adjustments can be made.

  1. Strategy Evaluation

Every crisis presents an opportunity to learn and improve crisis communication plans. Ongoing improvement is key to crisis communication readiness and effectiveness; it builds institutional knowledge so businesses become more proficient at managing issues and engaging stakeholders.

Some ways this can be done effectively include:

  • Perform in-depth evaluations of communication efforts and impacts after crises. Identify areas that were effective versus those needing improvement.
  • Gather feedback from both internal and external stakeholders on how messaging and engagement could be strengthened.
  • Analyze the data and feedback to uncover lessons and pinpoint needed adjustments in crisis plans.
  • Refine policies, templates, training programs, and protocols based on key takeaways.
  • Share updates across the organization on enhancements made to be prepared for future situations.

Though inherently challenging, crisis communication can be managed better when businesses become more deliberate about proactively planning messaging strategies, as this ensures better execution and more positive results.

In times of crisis, businesses need an ally who understands and can guide them through challenges with expertise and compassion. Reneé PR offers crisis management and communication services aimed at supporting businesses of all sizes.