Box 5.2

Overarching principles for crisis communications

Focus on trust

The overriding goal of crisis communications is to interact in ways that build, maintain, or restore trust. This is true across cultures, political systems, and levels of economic development.

Communicate early and often

You are always better off being the first to communicate bad news. It puts you in control of the message. In the absence of information from a credible source, people will look to the media for information or draw their own conclusions.

Listen for others’ concerns

Share information, exhibiting honesty, candor, and openness

Transparency in communication is essential. Research shows that people are more likely to overestimate risk if information is withheld.


Acknowledge uncertainty and ambiguity

Reporters and the public do not like to be “spun,” “managed,” or put off. Most people can accept uncertainty if they are told the process that is in place to resolve outstanding questions.

Adapted from: Heath RL. Best practices in crisis communication: evolution of practice through research. J Applied Communication Research. 2006;34(3):245–48.