Crisis Communication for Entrepeneurs – Striking the Right Tone Even Under Pressure

Start-ups don't have it easy: developing a business idea, finding investors and taking the first steps in a potentially global market are enough to keep founders on their toes. It becomes all the more difficult when the first crisis hits right away and a coherent communication concept is needed to avoid being branded as a negative example. But what advice can be given to start-ups in such situations?

First of all, stay calm. Hectic reactions don't help. Instead, a comprehensive analysis should start right away. Only if you know exactly what actually happened and how it came about you can finally pass on important information to the public. If, for example, it is a matter of a compromised IT infrastructure through which sensitive customer data was stolen or product defects that perhaps affect a whole series of customers – each situation requires its own approach.

In addition, you have to think about how you define this crisis in the first place. Is it already a crisis when customers publicly voice their displeasure about a product or service on social media? Or does it only become a crisis when investors and other stakeholders get involved and demand clarification? Depending on the industry and company, this requires different strategies. The diesel scandal, for example, did not cause a drop in car sales at Volkswagen, but it did damage the group's image considerably. Similarly, founders need to understand whether their crisis is an image or a product crisis.

Finally, the findings from the analysis must be actively applied. Stolen customer data, for example, must be openly communicated immediately, ideally also by e-mail to all those affected. An insecure password may be annoying in itself, but if customers also lose data on other platforms as a result, the damage is all the greater. Here, the image as a reliable service provider must be restored and trust regained. Founders in particular should make sure to be transparent at this point, because early mistakes can cause a long media echo of being unreliable with customer data.

Furthermore, it helps to have a strong partner at your side to support you during this time. PR agencies have good contacts to media representatives who not only report on the crisis, but also let the start-up have its say. In this way, a media counterpoint can be set that illuminates both sides. This also helps for the time after the crisis. For example, you can use the existing media interest for yourself and point out improvements in the company or showcase openly the mistakes you made and the lessons you learned. In this way, a crisis can also be an opportunity in the long term.