The team were lucky enough this week to pick up the Public Sector Communication Award for communicating in a crisis. I am incredibly proud of the team and the work they have done during the past four months. But the award sparked some social media discussion about whether it really was crisis communication or was it just comms at high speed.
When a disaster hits whether it is natural or man-made it needs swift and effective communication to protect lives. Emergency services have to step in and get the right messages to the right people at the right time. It is high stakes stuff. Get it wrong and people may lose their lives.
We also have to deal with reputational crises. These are times when the business we represent or company we work for is threatened by actions or perceptions of what they do. We have seen it with BP, Alton Towers and most recently Bell Pottinger. But with both the most important thing is to maintain confidence in the organisation or business.
In both circumstances the approaches are similar. You need to be quick to respond and then to maintain a consistent and constant flow of information. You need to be open and honest with the communication and if something has to obviously gone wrong then say so. You need to recognise the public mood and take notice of it when you are providing a response. You need to plan for the long term. The initial moments in any crisis may be critical to protect lives or reputations but the work will go on for months and even years. You have to be on top of things every step of the way.
The possibilities of getting it wrong are many and the impact can be tremendous. Speed alone will not mean effective crisis communication and neither will slow but honest communications. It needs a blend of all the elements I have outlined in the right proportion at the right time.
This year we have been through some testing times with unbelievable pressure and complexity. We have managed to deal with it, keep going and hopefully help to support people, most importantly the victims families and those affected.