Crisis communication: A must-have for a communications professionals

SOURCE: Josh Edelson/AFP
In 2016, Apple CEO Tim Cook published an open letter using clear and simple language to address a difficult issue they were facing, and how it impacted its customers.

By U2B Staff 

Read all stories

Companies can come face-to-face with a crisis at any point in time – even some of the world’s most renowned companies like Facebook and Apple aren’t immune to disasters. When the chips are down, however, the right crisis communication strategy can help businesses navigate and survive a crisis.

In 2015, Volkswagen’s emissions scandal saw the German automaker being accused by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of manipulating its cars to pass emissions tests in the US – which VW later admitted to. 

Hans-Gerd Bode, Volkswagen’s communications chief, said they had received thousands of calls and emails.

“A crisis like this, the company was not prepared for,” Bode was quoted saying by The New York Times. The company had continued to negotiate with foreign governments and Bode had said that, “We don’t know the right way out.”

The company had reportedly made inconsistent and sometimes contradictory statements, which did little to build the trust of its stakeholders. VW had also missed opportunities to make amends from the start, showing a poor approach to its crisis communication.


On the other end of the spectrum, in 2016, Apple received a writ from a US magistrate ordering it to make specialised software that would allow the FBI to unlock an iPhone used by Syed Farook, a suspect in the San Bernardino shooting in December 2015 that left 14 people dead, reported Wired.

Apple had refused the demand and published a letter to its customers, explaining that it would threaten the security of its customers and that the demand would have “implications far beyond the legal case at hand”. 

The American public were divided by Apple’s decision, but Reform Government Surveillance, a coalition formed by some of the world’s tech giants including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, said “technology companies should not be required to build in backdoors to the technologies that keep their users’ information secure. RGS companies remain committed to providing law enforcement with the help it needs while protecting the security of their customers and their customers’ information.”

Without a doubt, the examples above demonstrate that all sorts of crises could materialise at any given moment. 

No communication specialist can anticipate every contingency, but having a crisis communication plan in place can buffer damages to a company’s reputation.

Crisis communication certifications

If you’re a newly minted communications professional or experienced staff who wants to beef up your knowledge in the area, just know that there are a myriad of ways to upskill in crisis communications, be it via digital badges to online certification courses with universities or professional organisations. 

eCornell, for instance, offers a two-week Crisis Communication Planning course that will teach you to analyse a crisis communication plan to ensure that the organisation is prepared for potential crises, prepare internal and external messages to respond to stakeholders during a crisis and address questions and criticisms from internal and external stakeholders, to name a few. The online course costs US$769.


Meeting Professionals International (MPI) – a meeting and event industry association – offers a Event Crisis Communications Certificate Program that equips candidates with the skills to identify the results of poorly developed, poorly executed and non-existent crisis communications plans, and create a crisis communications plan and effective emergency management using best practices for internal and external communications, among others.

edX offers a course on Reputation Management in a Digital World that teaches students how to develop, manage, and protect an organisation’s online reputation through social media. The six-week programme is free but offers a verified certificate for a cost.

Regardless of your budget and availability, communications professionals can find an avenue to upskill in crisis communications which can prove invaluable for the organisations you serve.