This isn’t just PR shoptalk. Crisis communication is actually what every one of us needs and wants right now.
We need information to help us make decisions about our lives. We want leadership from the officials we have elected, who we expect to be closest to the experts and have access to decision-making tools that we don’t.
When our Tanner Friedman team has trained executives to speak to their audiences, via media, in times of crisis, we have taught them many of the fundamentals that we are seeing playing out in front of our very eyes these days.
First, regular briefings are important for audiences who are not just craving new information, they are literally setting their lives according to what they hear. During those briefings, though, it’s vital to follow the fundamentals of crisis communications.
So far, state governors are among the chief executives doing it best. Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York. Governor Gretchen Whitmer here in Michigan and Governor Mike DeWine in Ohio, for example, are three large state governors who have been decisive, clear, empathetic and committed to communication. No, their decisions haven’t been perfect. But it has been impossible to tell, from their words and actions, which are Republicans and which are Democrats.
Most importantly, there are following the key fundamentals:
-Communicating facts: More than anything, the public is craving credible, accurate information
-Providing reassurance: The public wants to know the top officials are “on it” and taking action, with health and safety as the top priority
-Expressing concern for people affected: The human teach means everything at a time like this – sympathy, empathy and caring go so far (even Cuomo’s admonitions fall into this category).
From our vantage point, we have seen similar sound communication from county executives, mayors, hospital leaders. law enforcement, and community health departments. Most have nailed the basics by putting people first. That’s a credit to the majority of elected officials and also to communications pros working behind the scenes.
This could be an exceptionally long and fatiguing challenge. But by continuing to follow the fundamentals and put audiences first, worse case scenarios could be avoided. Crisis communication really matters.