Thursday, April 30, 2009
Managing a crisis where everyone is affected
We often get involved in crises on behalf of our clients. These include events where products malfunction, or employees do something they shouldn't. Our task is to help manage the communications fallout and hopefully ensure the client's business doesn't suffer. The current swine flu crisis puts governments at the center of a horrible crisis. In most crises, there are certain parts of the population that are affected and a majority that aren't. That majority are the spectators and they react to the crisis as spectators. In the swine flu crisis there are no spectators. Everyone is a potential participant. This changes the dynamic considerably. It means we consume the information our governments and organizations like the WHO disseminate in a different way. We are not dispassionate or even rational. Instead we are concerned, cautious and emotional. We want to hear that we will all be fine but we also want to know what is going on in great detail. The latter, will of course create more fear than comfort. This leaves governments and health groups with a 'balance' challenge. How much do they say and how grim a picture do they create? This challenge is exacerbated in a pandemic situation where the media and Internet make it easy for us to see the difference between how say the Spanish are dealing with it versus the Americans. If one government paints a bleak view while another tries to keep people calm, the public is going to be confused and naturally skeptical of the communication they are getting. Getting governments to behave in a consistent manner is almost impossible as we have seen on issues such as global warming. This leaves the WHO as the one common mouthpiece in all countries. Again, however, the gap between what they say and a local government says will be consciously or subconsciously watched by people the world over. I don't envy the people handling this crisis it one that we are all watching and are all concerned about. I only hope the real crisis goes away and makes their jobs a lot easier.