Monday, July 27, 2009

Key Messages--Let's Just Lay Them Out There

Crisis and emergency response communicators are taught early on to focus on key messages. There are lots of good reasons for this. Risk communication research shows that when stressed our ability to take in a remember information is limited. So keep it simple! Media training always demonstrates that a good editor can make you say almost anything they want--so keep it short and simple and only say what you want them to use.

As this is my first blog post for Crisis Comm I want to share my key messages. I'm taking the risk of you thinking it's all I have to say. Never fear, there always seems to be more to explore around these three key ideas. So here they are:
1) Speed
2) Direct communication
3) Transparency

Actually, I can get it down to even two things: tell it fast, tell it straight.

It would be my fondest hope that every Incident Commander, every crisis manager,
Every PIO and every head of public affairs would adopt that as their crisis communication mantra. Most of what you read in this blog (and I hope you do and also comment) is going to be about those three elements.

Here is my greatest concern about the current practice of crisis communication in both the public and private sectors: those making decisions don't get it. They don't get the rapid changes in the media world and public information management. They don't really understand the revolutionary changes in how people get information. They don't understand how information demands and expectations are totally and completely different than they were just a few short years ago. Even if their communication folks, PIOs or Directors of Public Affairs, are on top of things, it doesn't mean the right strategies will be used or right decisions will be made. That's because in the heat of the battle, things move fast and there isn't time for education or even a lot of strategy discussion. So the leaders, the Commanders or CEOs or heads of Crisis Response Teams will make the decisions that they are most comfortable with. They will base those on their understanding of the world. They'll be shipping packages via Pony Express in a FedEx world--and then be amazed afterwards at the disappointment.

I'm hoping this blog will make a difference in helping prepare decision makers for their critical moments. If you are a PIO or Public Affairs director and you "get it" then I'm here to help you help your execs. If you are an exec or Incident Commander, then please hang in there with me on this because the difference may very well be how you and your organization emerge from the big one.

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