Communicating Through a Crisis


When Princeton University announced on March 15, 2020, that it was sending its entire population home after spring break, we knew in our hearts that our world had changed forever. Sure, we held on to hope for a quick return to normal, but the outlook was not promising. For the next two weeks, every organization in New Jersey scrambled to figure out how to respond to the coronavirus crisis. And what to say about it. Finally, after nearly two weeks of confusion, Governor Phil Murphy issued a stay-at-home order for the state of New Jersey. At least we knew where we stood. In our living rooms. Face-to-face with uncertainty.

It seems like a lifetime ago. In many ways, it was. We have adapted to the unknown, yet remain hungry for truth, clarity and reassurance. We continue to ask the same questions — “When will there be a vaccine?” “Can I get the virus twice?” “Is it safe to reopen my business?” — when we know there are no definitive answers. Yet we keep asking. We are craving information. At the same time, we are overwhelmed by it.

Learning how to communicate your organization’s message in this fluid environment is critical to its long-term success. One thing that separates this crisis from others in recent history is the rate at which the situation and the spread of information (and misinformation) changes, from day to day, hour to hour. Never before have communicators had to be so nimble and, frankly, so humble and human.

As the country begins to reopen, we need to continue to communicate consistently, accurately and compassionately — even when we don’t have all the answers, or when the answer is simply, “I don’t know.” So many employees, for example, are worried about losing their jobs; yet their employers can’t assure them otherwise. What leadership can and should do is communicate losses or projections, steps they are taking to avoid layoffs, plans they have to safely reopen. All the while finding new ways to keep their workers engaged, hopeful and connected. There’s a fine line between promoting positivity, which is so important right now, and innocently deceiving, which is equally important to avoid.

Crisis Communication for Small Businesses

We vote for promoting truth with empathy, accuracy and the right amount of positivity:

  1. Choose every word—and every image—carefully. Consider how it will be perceived by your audience, starting with your internal audience.
  2. Fact check constantly. What was true at 9 a.m., could be old news by noon.
  3. Choose your platform just as carefully. Consider how Uber recently laid off 3,500 workers over a three-minute Zoom call. Ouch. What might have seemed like the practical thing to do in the age of physical distancing was perceived as incredibly heartless.

You see, it’s not just what we communicate but also how we communicate and connect with one another that has changed so dramatically over the past several weeks.

Think about how quickly schools have transitioned to online learning, newspapers have ramped up their digital versions, co-workers are collaborating more on Zoom than they did from the next cubicle, retail stores and restaurants have revamped their business models, and CEOs have become amateur videographers. It’s pretty amazing. Yet, what other choice did we have but to adapt?


What This Means to Nonprofits

The list of who’s been hardest hit by the pandemic is very long, but not complete without nonprofit organizations. Their survival depends on a constant flow of grant money and corporate sponsorships and individual donations. Critical fundraising has traditionally focused around galas and other events, many of which have had to be canceled or postponed.

“The loss of revenue from ticketed events and programs has taken its toll,” says Aylin Green, Executive Director of the West Windsor Arts Council. Organizations such as the arts council have had to adapt their events to reach people in their homes and while those efforts have been notable, they have not covered the extent ot the losses.

On top of that, competition for grants is intense, the need for assistance for underserved populations is overwhelming and urgent, and resources are increasingly scarcer.

Despite these disheartening facts and unique challenges — and because of them — nonprofit organizations cannot stop communicating, describing their need, demonstrating their value­ — and uplifting us. Nonprofit organizations play such an essential role in unifying and connecting us through community service, the arts and health advocacy.

We need the good work of nonprofits as much as they need us. They have had to quickly learn to reach out in new ways — hosting virtual events, providing critical services in accordance with strict safety guidelines, and encouraging participation in initiatives that build community, boost emotional and physical health, and help others.

We love and need to hear their stories of hope and joy. Now, more than ever, nonprofit organizations should be strengthening their mission through messaging that connects and heals us, reminds us how much we need them and asks directly for support.

Communicating through a crisis webinar for small businesses in Princeton, NJ

Watch Our Webinar!

The time for nonprofit organizations to share their stories, demonstrate their missions and ask for support is now, with consistency, compassion and clarity.

In a webinar presented in partnership with the Central NJ Council for Nonprofits of the Princeton Mercer Regional Chamber. Ananta Creative Group’s Gail Rose, Dan Bauer and Jacqui Alexander discussed ways  to manage your nonprofit’s message through social media, advertising, digital marketing, community relations and more.

Read our other posts

A Brave New World for Young Marketing Professionals

A Brave New World for Young Marketing Professionals

For the past several months, we have engaged Boston University communications student Summer Brainin in weekly conversations about the future of marketing. We explored topics of interest to young marketing professionals today, from AI to Google Analytics, social media influencers to traditional marketing strategies. 

Networking for Success

Networking for Success

Networking is all about building relationships, not making quick sales. Yet, it can be one of the most effective ways to target an audience and meet long-term goals.