My questions and suggestions on the future of crisis communication raised some eyebrows, including at Ragan Communications who is re-publishing an edited (improved) version of my last crisisblogger post. I really appreciate the discussion that ensued on crisisblogger and would like to address a few very interesting points.
Patrice Cloutier and Donald Hamilton both make the very important point that a crisis communication manager (or PIO) have a very important role to play in managing the response. Hamilton puts it this way:
Organizational leaders tend to be operations or financial experts with an occasional lawyer thrown in. Not surprisingly, they do not think like communicators and seldom focus on the fact that the organization’s reputation is ultimately more important than this or that lawsuit, the urgent restoration of production capacity or next month’s stock price.
The crisis communicator’s job is to remind them of this and to assure that authoritative, repeat authoritative, information and context are made available to all relevant audiences with the greatest possible speed.
I completely agree. In training we just completed last week at our office with PIOs and communication leaders from several major organizations, I emphasized this point exactly. The goal of a response is to build trust and it depends on two things–taking the right actions and communicating well. The communicator must help response managers to understand what actions are “right” actions from the point of view of the critical audiences because ultimately they will be the judges of the response and will make the decisions about whether the leaders and the organization deserve their trust.
Commenter J.D. hit the nail on the head: If the crisis manager is one who only shares information, crafts messages and writes releases, then the future has already passed him by. Perhaps a decade ago. And perhaps that was Gerald’s point?
Exactly my point. But I work with communicators, PIOs and leaders of organizations every day where this needs this message needs to be continually repeated. We are still fighting today’s public information battles with old strategies and outdated technologies. Until communicators and their leaders understand how much the world has changed, the same mistakes will be repeated.
The job of the crisis communicator today isn’t so much put out a press release and then do some on camera interviews. It is much more about listening, evaluating, advising, and participating in the swirl of information and discussion about the event.