PR in crises – don’t get shot on woke trust, leadership and perception
Image by Prof. S Mohsen Banihashami
In any one week in Australia’s summer - fires, floods, droughts, cyclones and politics – corporations and governments could be given the opportunity to deliver a coherent message on leadership.
If you cannot find it, it is because it is one of the top words absent from most crisis and reputation response plans. The operational and communication responses are in the plans, but strategies around leadership, perception and trust are sadly lacking.
In fact, their absence almost renders all your crisis rehearsals and situation scenario software models a waste of time.
This is a wake-up call because independent research by specialised recruiter Robert Half shows that Australian business leaders have among the highest levels of confidence in their 2020 business growth prospects of the 13 countries polled. Almost seven in 10 of the 501 Australian business leaders surveyed cite very high levels of confidence, 13% above the international average of 56%.
If this is the case, the leadership strategy needs to be put into place promptly because the Gallup International Optimism-Pessimism Scale in 2019 highlighted Australia as one of the most pessimistic nations in the world – only 10 per cent of us are optimistic and 38% pessimistic; the remainder being neutral.
Here are some practical ideas for leaders on how to innovate your crisis response plans.
Trust – It is a myth to think that stakeholder trust can be regained by leaders by saying ‘sorry’ in whatever form of its five degrees of sincerity; or by assessing a crisis situation to determine the stakeholders’ response. Trust must be earned, and stakeholder perceptions and emotions must be understood, along with the non-word of mouth situation (N-WOM) through well-constructed strategies.
Leadership – It is a myth that CEO must be seen at the scene of an incident to show leadership. If the CEO has been identified as part of the problem and/or is grossly unsuitable to delivering the recovery messages, it can prove a disaster. Yes, recovery must be led from the top, but perception must be taken into consideration.
Perception – It is a myth that the community is a fool. In today’s social media-driven environment, perception stakes are very important. They frame situations. If your message cannot be delivered with sincerity and openness, then a rethink is required. You must think through, ahead of time, what are the ‘optics’ and what and how relevant messages can be conveyed. Have a clear understanding of what problematic questions could come forward and constantly review the perceptions you could be creating, your reputation, the tone in messages and your stakeholders’ mood. Candour, honesty and transparency are key pillars to engagement.
The value of experience and perception and situation analysis is clear in any reputation, trust and crisis situation. Embracing myths will not deliver on expectations.