Why your crisis media spokesperson must be the genuine article

September 24, 2013 by Alex Johnson

It’s part of my job to analyse how the media and companies deal with crises. Whenever I am researching major incidents I never lose sight of the fact that real people have been affected.

Sadly, I think this human reaction to tragic events isn’t always evident in the corporate world’s media response.  Just take a look at Robert Grindrod, CEO of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway struggling to communicate with compassion in this interview following a major train crash in July.

One of the reasons for this syndrome is that your average CEO is well practised in confidently communicating financial results to hard-bitten analysts, but this situation rarely requires the kind of warmth and empathy demanded by a crisis.

However, a truly exceptional leader has emotional intelligence as well as business credibility and will naturally adopt the right tone and say the right things when crisis strikes (though a little crisis media training also helps).

Don’t get me wrong: the best crisis media spokesperson isn’t someone who will give you a metaphorical hug and tell you everything is going to be alright. They need to have gravitas, be able to demonstrate the organisation is taking the situation seriously and show its commitment to action. But we want them to do that as a human being – someone who responds with genuine feeling to these tragedies.

During our crisis management training we make it clear that crisis manuals and processes alone don’t handle incidents – people do.  It’s easy to lose sight of this when you are under the media microscope, but every spokesperson should remind themselves that whatever the corporate impact, it’s ultimately the people involved that really matter.  And it’s only spokespeople who can communicate genuine care and concern who will successfully preserve the good name of their business.

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