Tone-deaf crisis comms, corrected

We’ve all come across them during “these uncertain times” – tone-deaf, cliché, or generally unhelpful Covid communications.

Anyone who came to our recent webinar on getting your message right during a crisis will remember this example from KFC:



In short, KFC put a lot of time and money into a glossy new campaign that brings their long-running slogan to life. But it couldn’t have come out at a worse time.

Ads, billboards, and social posts. All promoting putting your hands in your mouth right in the middle of a pandemic. Naturally, the response was pretty negative. Ad Standards received over 100 complaints, and KFC got a lot of flak on social media.

We were talking this over at The Writer, and we came up with a new take that keeps to the spirit of the original slogan while acknowledging the new norms of the pandemic:

Finger lickin’. Bad. At least right now.

Our chicken: still really good.

May we suggest a spork?


It got us thinking about other recent offenders, and how they might have been more effective. So, here are a couple examples of what not to do in your crisis comms, with edits from The Writer.

Focusing on yourself instead of the reader

One thing that doesn’t play well during a pandemic? Braggy, self-involved writing.

Hertz: A message about Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Dear Customer,

Whether you rent a car at the airport or at one of our nearly 3,000 convenient neighborhood locations, Hertz is here to get you there. Be assured as the No. 1 ranked company for rental car Customer Satisfaction by J.D. Power, our focus remains on going the extra mile to get you where you need to be safely and with confidence.

We are closely monitoring Coronavirus (COVID-19) and following the current guidance from the leading government and health authorities to ensure we are taking the right actions to protect our customers, employees and the communities where we operate.


Hertz hit a few wrong notes here. There’s the impersonal “Dear Customer.” It’s all about Hertz – not the customer’s concerns. And there’s the inappropriate bit of self-praise: “Be assured as the No. 1 ranked car company for customer satisfaction…”

Here’s our take on a more empathetic response:

We’re still here to get you there – safely

Hello from the home office.

A lot has changed in the last few months. Vacations might be on hold, or you might need to visit a family member. That flight might have been swapped for a road trip.

One thing that hasn’t changed? We’re still here to get you there, wherever the new “there” might be. In a clean, safe, reliable car.

Contact-free drop off and pick up means you can keep your distance. We’re rigorously disinfecting every vehicle with a multi-step cleaning process. And we’re following all available guidelines to keep our employees and customers healthy.

You have enough on your mind. When you ride with us, you can know that you and your family are safe.

Thank you for your continued loyalty. We hope to see you soon.

The Hertz Team


What’s changed? We’ve shifted the focus from Hertz’s record to the reader’s concerns, gave a nod to the new challenges, and addressed worries directly. While using more empathetic, personal language throughout.

Saying something just for the sake of saying it

Here’s an easy one. Take a look at this email from Barnes & Noble.



What exactly are we learning here? We already know that we’re living through turbulent times, right? It seems they felt they had to say something about Covid, but couldn’t come up with anything useful. At best, it’s time wasting. At worst, you sound opportunistic.

In this case our advice is simple: don’t say something just for the sake of saying it. It’s ok to say nothing.

Or, find something useful to offer. Maybe a book recommendation. (I’ve been enjoying Olga Tokarczuk’s writing lately. What about you?)

If you’ve come across a particularly good or bad crisis comm lately, we’d love to see it. Send it along to us @thewriter. And if you’re reading this at Hertz, Barnes & Noble, or KFC, let us know what you think. And feel free to drop us a line next time - hello@thewriter.com

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