5 key areas to consider when developing a communications response to a crisis or incident

The following is based on risk communication principles of what causes and how to mitigate public outrage. This information should be used to set the tone for the organisation’s response to an Incident. If the organisation actively seeks to keep stakeholders involved in the incident response, then public outrage will be minimised. The statements below are grouped into 5 categories:

The public does not naturally trust ‘big business”. It is particularly concerned about appropriate ownership and management of public utilities / essential services. Even though the organisation works hard at building strong relationships with its stakeholders, trust takes a long time to develop. The organisation could use a crisis incident as an opportunity to prove that it is a trustworthy organisation, which is committed to doing the right thing by its stakeholders.

The first rule of responsiveness is to publicly express regret that the incident has occurred. A meaningful apology backed up by a commitment to fix the situation as quickly and thoroughly as possible, will significantly decrease people’s anger.

Most stakeholders view moral issues like the environment and pollution as moral wrongs. Careful response management is imperative. The key to managing this effectively is to counter a moral argument with a moral response; not a citation of the technical facts.

Most corporations want total control of their business decisions and strategies. However, good community relations are based on communication and control sharing. This is particularly important in times of crisis. By allowing stakeholders who are affected by the incident to have input into the way forward (be they employee representatives, indigenous groups, community/environmental groups, affected industries or investors), you effectively decrease the public outrage, and give additional credibility to the response.

There is the potential for outrage if the community perceives the risks to be distributed unfairly, i.e. the organisation receives most of the benefit from its various operations, and the community faces most of the risk. The organisation has to work to offset the risks, by ensuring that the benefits outweigh the risks, and by empowering others to determine what the real risks are, and what mitigation approach is appropriate. In a crisis situation, issues of fairness will probably take the form of compensation or restitution. All forms of compensation should be negotiated with the affected parties, not decided unilaterally by the organisation and meted out.