Much has been said and written about crisis communication, and most public relations practitioners have their own approach and tool set based on experience and peer-to-peer learning. Even with the multitude of methodologies there is consensus that this is a fast evolving space in a world where news can spread virally across social networks and geographic boundaries.
The new book Risk and Crisis Communication – Navigating the Tension between Organizations and the Public by crisis comms pundits Robert S. Littlefield and Timothy L. Sellnow is an attempt to define a more robust, scholarly framework to analyse and manage crises as they are unfolding. They identified seven areas where organisations face dialectic tensions (dialectic refers to the discourse of different stakeholder viewpoints) in a crisis situation and how it affects their communication strategy:
• Timeliness: Immediate versus Delayed: How soon should an organisation comment in a crisis and how a delayed response can impact public perception.
• Amount of Information: Open versus Closed: Looks at the risk of withholding information and subsequent loss of public trust.
• Confidence in Information: Certainty versus Uncertainty: An organisation’s authority will be diminished if it disseminates inaccurate information.
• Focus of Interest: Self-Serving versus Other-Serving: Are an organisation’s crisis efforts perceived to be ultimately self-serving or do they serve the public?
• Level of Responsibility: Owning versus Disowning: Taking responsibility is a critical step but can often be mitigated by law and liability concerns.
• Control of the Narrative: One Voice versus Multiple Voice: If too many actors are communicating, the message can be lost even when the narratives are complementary.
• Empathy with the Publics: Sensitivity versus Insensitivity: Failure to demonstrate a level of sensitivity can lead to a long term loss of confidence with consumers.