How to communicate in a crisis

It’s no great secret that effective communication is important whether faced by crisis or otherwise, however a crisis does heighten the need to convey important messages and ensure that they’re understood.

The UK Government’s apparent inability to take hold of the Covid-19 catastrophe is a lesson in communication, with both good and bad examples. Without heaping further criticism on them it is possible to see what we can learn.

Rule of three

It is obvious that the Govt. comms team are obsessed with the rule of three. Most will be familiar with the rationale behind this, it's a triptych which apparently dates back to Aristotle.  For those who are not, it is an effective means of communicating in both written and verbal forms. A pattern of three units combines both brevity and rhythm and is the smallest grouping to allow this. In the early days of Covid the simple message of ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS and Save Lives’ was effective mostly because it led with a clear instruction. Frequent repetition of the message was invaluable to drive it home, following the holy grail of presenting information: Tell them what you going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you just told them.

It is suggested that the first message was so successful that it became difficult to modify it in later stages. Indeed, the mistake at that point may have been in trying to repeat the process with slightly different messaging, thereby prompting confusion. Latterly, particularly when backed up with simple graphics, they got back on track with ‘Hands, Face, Space’ although they had undermined their own efforts by this point, enabling sufficient doubt and suspicion to creep in during the process. Distrust from your target audience will naturally scupper most of your efforts.

For our purposes, the rule of three to apply to your comms efforts can be clarified, with a bit of alliteration to help it stick. Always communicate clearly, calmly and confidently.


Communicating with a wide audience is impossible without clarity. Ideally you would know your target market and your model customer and aim the messaging at them, in a language they speak – terms and phrasing they’d use. To communicate more widely and take in a broader audience you need simplicity, common words and clear ideas. It is broadly accepted that the most popular newspapers in the country are written for a reading age of 9-12. To be easily understood you may have to mimic the masters.


A crisis often induces panic, and this clouds the mind as it races around trying to find a safe-ground of reason or explanation. In order to cut through this you will have to deliver the message calmly, to provide the solution and pacify the crowd. Choice of words is all important here, think of positive terms instead of negative ones, you want to establish control.


If you want to be believed you will have to appear confident. To be sure of the facts enables you to transmit them to a receptive audience. Clarity, calmness and confidence are the three tiers to any communication, crisis or no crisis. If you’d like to add a fourth, then consistency is also valuable. People distrust back-tracking and u-turns – if you’re following the science one day then ignoring it on another will badly undermine your credibility.

communication in a crisis
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

In the situations and circumstances surrounding Covid-19 it can be argued that there was too much complexity, too many differentials and changing circumstances over too wide an audience and geographical area. It should still have been simplified and having a 3-tier system using both numbers and explainers could seldom hit the intended goal of being readily comprehensible, particularly when the lowest or starting tier is ‘medium’. It’s never a great idea to try and bend widely understood words to a new meaning.

If you want to cut-through a crisis, think and communicate clearly, calmly and confidently with consistency and credibility. Check your thinking and wording with external advisors or consultants if you have any doubts, and always be sure of the points you’re trying to make.

Testing Times

Covid 19 and the live events industry

In the popular events industry, we’ve rarely benefitted from Government intervention; we prefer to advise them than the other way around. We get on with things ourselves and work with local licensing bodies and authorities for the best outcomes. Governments just get in the way, with their infinite bureaucracy and leaden-footed methodology. Those in concert and event production are proudly autonomous but that same independence is punishing many of us who have slipped through the treasury’s ‘safety net’.  The question is not whether we trust the authorities to get things sorted quickly enough (we don’t), rather is there something we can do to speed up the process?

How to re-start concerts and events

Next year the most important pass you’ll get won’t be the ‘crew’ laminate or ‘AAA’, it’ll be your Covid passport, the certification that you’re coronavirus free. It will inevitably come to this, those who are allowed to work & travel and those who are not. You may legitimately argue that if you’re allowed on a flying tube of metal with as little vigilance as a simple temperature check then we should be able to do the same with mass gatherings. Sadly, it’s unlikely to be that simple and we all know that socially distanced shows aren’t going to work - not only do the numbers not add up but you’re still at the mercy of locally enforced lockdowns as experienced by SSD and their socially distanced arena. No one can or will insure you against those risks which means that the solution is testing. All event attendees are going to have to arrive pre-tested and clear, with evidence to prove it – or you’ll have to provide testing on site.

Photo of people partying at a festival
photo by Adam Whitlock from Unsplash

Right now this sounds daft.  Government is struggling to get results for people within 48 hours, lab capacity is non-existent, but we are not Government and our industry is too important for us to wait around for them to get their act together. If nothing else, we’ll need to have next year’s festival shows on-sale in the next two to three months and we’ll need a way to reassure ticket buyers that the shows will go on.

In 2020 we won’t just be in the business of shows, we will also be in the testing business.

Testing, testing…..Lamp Testing?

It’s no secret that the UK Government has failed to make test and trace work. We can do better. We already create mini cities with their own eco systems to stage big shows. In 2021 this will become greatly expanded to give more space to testing. Naturally the process will have to give instantaneous results, but we are very nearly there. I was alerted by friends in the movie industry to the possibility of a Covid test result within 30 minutes.

It hasn’t been widely reported but the methods  and the costs seem promising. Perhaps at scale it’ll become even cheaper and faster, more efficient. Of course, we’ll need people to take and process the tests, but those services are being discussed, it’s a conversation we can already have – drop us an email when you’re ready.

Perhaps the only realistic way of starting events again is to put the onus on the attendee. Either they turn up with a clear Covid result or evidence of immunity and failing that they have to pay for a test to ensure they can get in. Correctly communicated to meet statutory conditions or event safety restrictions it should overcome any significant issues. We should not underestimate people’s desire to resume normality and start having fun – the quantity of ‘pop-up raves’ proves that.

Just as there are no omelettes made without broken eggs and no festivals staged without sore heads, there are significant logistical challenges, but it has to be better than another year without gigs and festivals. With our industry on its knees, that is just unthinkable.

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Howard Szigeti, Unique Lives; Paul Flower, Profound Media; Chris Hadfield; Chris Proctor, Symphony Hall

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