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Modern Messaging for Crisis Communication

Lets face it – we’ve been drawing up the same messaging in a crisis situation since we started communicating in a crisis.

Now it’s time for a revolution.

There is a great TEDTalk by Simon Sinek from September 2009 entitled How great leaders inspire action.  In it Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question "Why?" His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers.  The video has had over 7.3 million views, but if that wasn’t you I’d recommend you spend 18 minutes checking it out.

But, what does this all have to do with crisis communication?

Well, simply – messaging. Which seems to be the heart of successful crisis communication, for if the message is wrong – the whole campaign will fail.


Most messaging that we produce travels from the outside of the circles to the inside – following the path of the blue arrow:

Example 1:  What happened at 6:00pm on Friday was a mistake, caused by miscommunication between multiple teams, for which we are very sorry.

This ‘blue line messaging’ is very familiar to traditional PR folks and especially hits home to those who have been producing crisis communication messaging and tools for some time.

Lets see what happens when we turn this on its head and we do some ‘red line messaging’:

Example 2: We’d like to first of all express our sorrow in this situation, which was caused by miscommunication between multiple teams, which led to the mistake that happened at 6:00pm on Friday.

The subject and the verbs are largely the same (the sentence basically uses the same words to say the same thing), but the order of the sentiment is different.

By giving the reader of the message a cause or a belief, the rest of the message becomes more believable and is received more favorably. And anyone in crisis communications knows that believability/credibility is crucial for success.

Sinek’s talk goes into some pretty competing reasons why this is so, but for the PR attention deficit; you just need to know that it works – so use it!