Beekeeping Lessons for Crisis Communications

people creating a crisis communications plan in time of crisis

The gift of 20,000 honeybees. That is what my husband gave me last Christmas. I was elated!

There are countless benefits of beekeeping and caring for honeybees. Not only do honeybees produce honey, but they are essential pollinators of critical plants, flowers, and trees that serve as a food source for people and animals. We couldn’t wait to get started.

The bees would arrive in March, so we had time to pick the perfect spot for the hives—just outside my office window had the perfectly dappled sunlight they needed—build the hives, buy beekeeper hats, and absorb as much bee knowledge as possible.

Then before we knew it, we were beekeeping at our home. We were excited to nurture our hives, cheer on the new queens, and eventually (hopefully) harvest honey!

However, we also knew so much could go wrong.

Even highly experienced beekeepers are constantly learning and adapting to honeybees’ needs and behaviors, so you can only imagine the learning curve we faced as new beekeepers.

One morning, I shared with our PR team how I was upset and anxious about the hives swarming. A swarm is when a honey bee colony outgrows its home, becomes too congested, or is too populated for the queen’s pheromones to control the entire workforce, so the workers signal that it is time to swarm. Beekeepers can anticipate and prevent swarms by adding more hive boxes or splitting the hive to ensure they have enough room to prosper. Honeybees swarm for many reasons, but I realized our hives grew faster than I anticipated, which led to overcrowding in their hive boxes. Both queens decided it was time to find a more spacious home, so they packed their royal bags and left their hives with half the colony.

I was devastated.

Thankfully our team—who sees everything from a PR perspective—quickly cheered me up by joking that beekeeping sounded a lot like crisis communications.

I laughed at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I agreed that there are many correlations between beekeeping and crisis communications. Honestly, there are many connections between honeybees, beekeeping, and life, but we’ll just focus on PR for today.

Here are a few lessons we can all take from beekeeping to ensure a successful crisis communications response:  

Bee Proactive: Have a Plan

We all know change and crisis are inevitable. It’s better to be proactive and anticipate your needs by having a crisis communications plan.

For instance, in beekeeping, it is important to anticipate and prevent swarms.

In PR, it is important for executives and communications leaders to anticipate different crisis scenarios and be prepared to address them.

The first steps are to identify your stakeholders and spokespeople to ensure they are comfortable speaking to customers, media, vendors, and employees. Also confirm if you have standard operating procedures (SOP) for different scenarios. If not, now is the time to create and finalize them (not during the crisis!).

Next, plan your messaging ahead of time so your team is confident and prepared with what they need to say. You may need to tweak it in real time, but it is better to have an approved message to start with than to come up with it on the fly. 

Related Reading: Crisis Communication 101 for B2B Companies

Hive Mind: Think as One

Honeybees operate under a “hive mind.” Each honeybee has a role to play in the survival of its hive, and each honeybee knows its unique role and responsibility to contribute to the hive’s success. In a hive mind, the collective is more important than the individual.

The same is true in crisis communications.

Each stakeholder has a role to play in a crisis situation, and it’s crucial each stakeholder is aligned, following the same SOP and sharing the same messaging in these types of situations. Thanks to your plan, each stakeholder will know their role and responsibility when the crisis arises to ensure the success of the company and will share the same message with each audience.

Stay Calm, Know Your Plan, and Bee Intentional

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed, rushed, and even scared during a crisis, but it’s essential that you stay calm, follow your plan, be intentional, and take action when needed.

Perfect example: it is easy for beekeepers (especially new ones) to feel overwhelmed or scared when working with thousands of bees. There is the fear of being stung, not knowing what to do, or even hurting the bees.

However, beekeepers can calm those fears with safety gear protection, having a plan for their hive inspection, and preparing themselves with the knowledge they need to understand what they are seeing and what actions they need to take.

The same principles apply in crises. A crisis can create a strong sense of fear and overwhelm even the most experienced CEO. It’s essential to stay calm, follow your plan, be intentional, and pivot as needed. Being prepared will help ease fears and allow leaders to be as ready as possible for anything that may happen. 

Related Reading: How to Communicate with Stakeholders in Times of Crisis

Swarms Happen

Even the best-laid plans sometimes go astray. No matter how much you plan or try to prevent it, a crisis will happen. 

If the Queen Bee does swarm and takes half the hive with her, the remaining bees are left with the resources they need to get by, but they are in a vulnerable position. They are now responsible for raising a new queen and ensuring their survival, even in altered circumstances.

It’s important to have a strong team in place that can rise to a challenge. Whether it’s a change in leadership or a business threat, leaders need to trust their plan and their team to step up and move forward to ensure the success of the company. Make sure your team has the proper training and support to step up as required, and you’ll see positive results.

Sweet, Sweet Honey

Crisis communications is not necessarily fun or easy, but when handled well, there can be sweet rewards. 

A well-cared-for hive will eventually produce delicious honey, help the environment, and support local ecosystems with increased pollination and biodiversity.

A well-handled crisis can sometimes help a company grow customer loyalty and trust. One of the most well-known crises happened in 1982 with Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol scare.

Seven people died from taking the painkiller because of bottle tampering. Johnson & Johnson was quick to inform their customers not to take their product and ordered a nationwide recall. They quickly designed the first-ever tamper-resistant container. By listening, acting quickly, and focusing on their customers, Johnson & Johnson remains one of the top-trusted brands in the world, even after their crisis. 

Related Reading: 13 Ways to Handle a PR Crisis

After many years in the PR industry, I’m still surprised to learn how my personal life can reflect my professional one. Who knew how much beekeeping and honeybee behaviors I could share to help you be ready for a crisis!

Remember, the best way to avoid or lead through a crisis is to bee prepared. Reach out to us here at Zen Media today to help develop your crisis management and communication plan. 


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