In a year like 2020 where a new crisis can occur any moment, Murrow College instructors are teaching students to successfully communicate through stressful situations.

Erin Tomson, a scholarly assistant professor at Murrow College, has taught crisis communication at Murrow College since spring 2016. Now, she teaches several crisis communication courses, including Comstrat 486 (Crisis Communication) for undergraduate students and Com 562 (Crisis Communication in Global Contexts), which is a graduate level course offered in Murrow College’s Online MA program.

Students taking the undergraduate Crisis Communication course learn how to strategically craft messages to different stakeholders during a crisis, while also creating a crisis communication plan for a real-world client. This semester, students worked with Detroit Horse Power, a non-profit that teaches youths in Detroit, Michigan the importance of hard work and responsibility through horseback riding and caring for horses.

Students split up into groups and completed various tasks, such as drafting press releases and developing a social media strategy, to craft the perfect crisis communication plan that Detroit Horse Power can use if a crisis ever occurs.

This year has provided Tomson with an array of examples of crisis communication, including the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and monumental elections, all of which demonstrate the importance of successful crisis communication to students.

“Everybody has experienced the same crisis this year and for students to learn the proper tools now will be important no matter what field of work they go into,” Tomson said.

Tomson’s teaching philosophy is to provide students with enough information to ask tough questions and pushes them to be critical thinkers in a world of information overload. No amount of preparation can completely predict the magnitude of a crisis. However, with the proper plans in place, it can greatly help crisis communicators better understand the proper messaging and how to respond appropriately and effectively.

“Every organization at some point will experience a crisis,” Tomson said. “A skill set in crisis communication can be a particularly important asset for any organization, whether it’s a huge corporation or a small business.”