The ship is ALWAYS safe at the shore – but that’s NOT what it was built for!

One of the most interesting questions during the Great Recession was what the companies were going to do differently after the crises.

The list was long, everybody was going to do things differently. At least that was the intensions.

Communication was focusing on being more prepared, better at communicating, and far more sustainable for the good of business and society at large.

When we checked in 12 months later, it turned out to be business as usual for all but 1-2%. 

In this fourth and final article in my series about how to get your (denim) business safely through crises, you’ll learn about best and worst practices for how to communicate.

If you haven’t read them yet, I urge you to start with the first three articles.

Like the previous articles, this one gives you the key takeaways from a huge study made in the wake of the Great Recession in 2008-2009. A study led by Ram Charan, a true beacon in business management and leadership.

In many ways, it’s truly exciting times for someone like me who’s passionate about business development and people’s behaviour. At the time of writing, some regions in the world are taking the first fragile steps towards opening up society to something we perhaps have to accept as the new normal.

Psst … need help getting your business through the crisis? We can help. Schedule your consultation right here.

How NOT to communicate during crises

Let’s dive into the 10 most common denominators in how the companies that lost ground during the last crisis communicated. (Mind you, this was 71% of the companies researched.)

#1: Little internal communication – a close group of managers with none or little focus on the daily operation

#2: All outgoing communication was negative

#3: Management kept a low profile – they communicated very little

#4: Pointed towards everybody else in hope of not risking to look incompetent – hence looking and acting very incompetent 

#5: No real link between businesses in the same industry – no effort to establish common ground

#6: No lead support towards governance nor towards the unions 

#7: No real trade communication

#8: No real brand communication

#9: Little service communication

#10: No supplier communication

Note: When the study says ‘no real communication,’ this meant that communication was exclusively about promotions. Trying to sell as much as possible as to what looked like the lowest price point in the history of the business. 

This was the first time in modern business history that we saw a huge increase in the number of weekly newsletters send out. An attempt to win the battle of focus by, ironically, not focusing on the receiver but on the sender.

The harsh takeaway would be that these business showed no stewardship, no responsibility!

Not surprisingly, more than 63% of these companies replaced management within 12 months after crises hit. 

How you should communicate during crises

Others did differently. Very differently.

This group of companies leaned into the problem from a much wider perspective. They didn’t just want to win over competition, they wanted to secure the category and the passionate people in their industry.

Here are the 10 most documented actions:

#1: Total internal transparency – very visible leadership and management

#2: Leadership and management had full focus on daily operation, taking part in all sorts of daily routines

#3: Weekly internal hearings and briefings – a genuine war room setup

#4: Stepping up the frequency of board meetings – inviting board members to play a positive role in the daily operation  

#5: Heavy push on all online media platforms – taking online market share and rapidly developing SEO 

#6: No PR

#7: Stepped up customer service – investing in internal training, changed systematics, and anchored upgraded code of conduct

#8: Developed diverse campaign material for all wholesalers to secure communication and brand perception both with customers and consumers – no own promotions and no extra sales were pushed

#9: Monthly contacts with local governance and unions to support the local decisionmaking   

#10: Customer experience development was tripled to secure the best experience on own digital platforms

Before the crisis, most of these companies were not by any measurement the biggest in their industries. 6 out of 10 were industry leaders in 2010.

By the way, they where downscaling on newsletter communication. That said it looked like leadership and management really understood the strengths and possibilities with a digital presence and made it work to the advantage of the company and business.

Key takeaway of this article

The key takeaway of this article (and the study it’s based on) about how to communicate during crisis is crystal clear:

This companies that upped their game and took open-minded leadership to the next level in terms of transparency and work ethics, moved far beyond best practice.

They didn’t stay ashore, they steered the ship into the storm with strong believable direction backed by true leadership. Staff rewarded the effort with a willingness to go the extra mile.

So much should have been learned. But the fact is that most businesses go on autopilot during crises, focusing on spreadsheets and double-digit growth in times where we should know differently and think much more sustainable from a holistic perspective.

It’s not more than 10 years since the last crisis, and who knows maybe we need to be better prepared in this our new future.

If you need our help getting your business through the crisis, we can help you. Learn more about what we can do and schedule a consultation here.


Brian has worked with international business and double-digit development for the past three decades. He travels the world to share knowledge on consumer behaviour and disruptive leadership. He mentors and support to senior management. And if that's not disruptive enough, we're proud to call him our number one choice in photography.

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