Dana Schmidt and Cassandra Bailey
Dana Schmidt, left, and Cassandra Bailey

Getting, keeping and using attention is key to supporting the growth of any business. There are times, however, when you are not going to want attention. This usually is because there is some sort of crisis that has occurred.

Within an industry that offers empowering opportunities that lead to fulfilling lives, senior living organizations pride themselves on offering compassionate care and services and building trust with residents and their families. How you manage a crisis is integral to maintaining your reputation and perhaps, even maintaining your census and keeping your doors open.

Whether or not you have control over the crisis, it’s important to communicate your response to three main audiences.


The first audience, and the one that is the most important, is your internal audience — your employees. In each and every crisis situation, you have to communicate with them, and well.

Unfortunately, a lot of the time, people overlook that because they do not think about their employees as being one of their audiences for communications during a crisis. This is a major mistake, as your employees are the single most important audience and should be prioritized at all times!

When employees do not have clarity and leadership from you about what is going on, or reassurances from you that you are doing everything that you can to handle the crisis, they will begin to doubt your leadership and effectiveness. This, in turn, creates a communication gap, where your employees may begin to look to each other for information, or worse, look outside of the company. When you allow this to happen, you actually give up even more control in a crisis situation, which is the last thing you want to do when you often have so little control of a crisis situation to begin with.

When crafting your communications plan with employees, it’s important to:

  • Reinforce your values,
  • Communicate with your employees regularly, and
  • Give them a chance to ask questions.

A lot of times, people will trust information received from a direct supervisor more than what they hear from the CEO, because they have a more personal relationship with the supervisor. That’s why we recommend taking a parallel path approach. One path is communicating regularly with all of the employees, and the other part is communicating with supervisors and managers, who then can share the information with the rest of their direct reports.


The second audience you need to consider is your ancillary partners. Those are people who are involved and invested in the future success of your business. Those partners can range from suppliers, banking partners, lawyers, accountants, members of your accountant’s firm, and others you need to continue to believe in you.

Those partners are looking to you for information and answers. They want to know what is going on at your business, especially in a crisis, because you need to work hand in hand with them to continue to deliver your services.

One of the biggest mistakes we see is that companies don’t have a list of contacts for their partners. As a matter of fact, they often don’t even know who their critical partners and suppliers are! Therefore, when it comes time for communication, they are not able to execute crisis communications with partners, or at the very least, they are not able to executive well. As a result, those partners often are left in the lurch, unsure of the problems that are occurring.

Uncertainty like that hurts trust. To keep a good relationship with your essential partners during difficult times, such as a crisis, it’s important to make sure that you have a list of partner contacts ready and to use them to communicate appropriately.

The general public

The third audience that you need to consider is your external audience. Your external audience is everyone outside of the company — the general public.

It is not always necessary to communicate with those people through a crisis. There are times when it is better to just be silent. On the other hand, there are times when it is best to communicate, and there are times when you can communicate directly while attempting to communicate indirectly.

The strategy you use to communicate with your external audience is highly dependent on the type of crisis you’re facing. Once you’ve made sure that your employees and partners are informed about the situation and what you’re doing to solve the problem, then you should consult with your public relations professionals to decide the best course of action to communicate with your external audience in your particular scenario.

Navigating a crisis, especially in the senior living industry, can be difficult, but with the help of a PR professional and a good crisis communications plan, your business can be prepared for any PR challenge that may come your way. Those situations come with much uncertainty, which is why delivering your messages on a regular basis to one or all three of those target audiences is so important. The right crisis communications strategy can give everyone in your audience peace of mind while building trust with those who support your business.    

Cassandra “Cass” M. Bailey is the CEO of Slice Communications, the founder and current chairwoman of Social Media Day Inc., and the creator of the “My Mom Is…” children’s book series. She has been working in marketing communications for more than 20 years and has authored two books on the subject: Pay Attention! and Social Media is About People.

Dana M. Schmidt is the chief strategy officer at Slice Communications, where she champions brand storytelling across social media, public relations and email platforms. She earned an Emmy during her time at Rocky Mountain PBS and also has worked at the Philadelphia PBS affiliate WHYY and served as the director of social media at Visit Philly.

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.

Have a column idea? See our submission guidelines here.

Related Articles