Communication Managers play an essential role in shaping the public face of an organisation; their work, for better or for worse, leaves a lasting impact in the public’s awareness. Communications departments therefore shoulder an enormous responsibility, though they often have to make the most out of only limited resources.
In all sorts of different situations, whether a crisis situation such as a terrorist attack or a reputation scandal, the usefulness of good preparation and a well-thought out communication plan is evident. In times of accelerating news cycles, in order to be effective a communication strategy must be agile and adaptable to different situations. While some time-tested approaches still work and remain valuable, the changing media landscape, public discourse culture and the emergence of social media necessitate a fundamental reassessment of all tenets of public relations.
Public institutions do not communicate in a vacuum. These are times of information overload. In order to gain the attention of the target audience, new and innovative approaches are necessary. Many public institutions still underutilize collaboration as a means of effective signal boosting. It pays to develop long-term relationships with other actors and organisations in your field and beyond. International collaboration in many fields is not yet used to its fullest potential.
Unfortunately, crisis communication during a terrorist attack or a natural disaster has increasingly become a likely scenario for many communication departments. A key aspect of crisis communication is thorough preparation. Clear communication principles, such as a “single-voice” approach, are necessary during the often chaotic information situation during a crisis. The public and stakeholders need to be able to follow a clear voice, which cuts through the noise.
Structures need to be already implemented prior to the actual crisis. Responsible communication departments should develop a contingency plan in case of emergencies. Internal organisational questions, such as working processes within your department, should be defined in detail prior to any crisis. If at all possible, ad-hoc solutions should be avoided as they might contribute to the already chaotic nature of the event. Social media increasingly plays an important role in crisis communication. Due to its immediate nature, it can help inform the public and dispense advice to those affected. However, it is important to strike the right note. An ill-advised tweet might heighten the public’s fear and might even cause panic – therefore, a careful choice of wording and content is crucial in managing the public’s risk perception.
Following resolution of the crisis, Communication Managers should take time to take stock and assess the strong points and weaknesses of their communication plan in practice. Communication plans should constantly be re-evaluated and adjusted if necessary.
Despite representing one of the most important investments in an organisation’s future, the professionalisation of reputation management has long been neglected in many public institutions. Each interaction with stakeholders and the general public should be seen as an opportunity to improve one’s reputation and build a firewall against potential future attacks and crises. The value of accumulated good will towards your institution, built during years of strategic and anticipatory reputation management, should never be underestimated. It might make the difference between a minor scandal and lasting reputational damage!
Once a reputational crisis has emerged, damage containment is the main priority. Careful monitoring of social media and the traditional media landscape might give those responsible some crucial additional time to contain the escalating trouble. Although each scandal and each reputational crisis is unique, frequently similar factors exist. Exchanging ideas and best practices with other institutions can be most helpful in designing your own crisis communication contingency plan.
Experience has shown that, rather than the original event itself, mistakes in an institution’s communication and messaging are often what led to the scandal’s subsequent escalation. Therefore, Communication Managers must be keenly aware of the risks that their action, however well-intentioned, might carry.
In the past years, reputation management has gained an additional facet. Increasingly, public institutions are facing the phenomenon of so-called “fake news” and systemic disinformation campaigns. These attacks can inflict lasting damage on an institution’s reputation, even if the factual validity of the accusation was non-existent. It is, therefore, essential that public organisations prepare a communication strategy to use in case of such attacks.
Despite careful preparation and thorough reputation management, not all reputational crises can be avoided. While the effects of a scandal can be devastating for an institution, the aftermath of a crisis can be seen as an opportunity for a new start. Rebuilding lost reputation, while challenging and difficult, can be achieved with the right strategy.
Ultimately, public institutions are funded by the general public. It is therefore crucial to communicate the added benefit the public receives from the institution’s services. This might even have a direct influence on other important factors, such as budgetary allocation. Additionally, being well-regarded in the public eye allows institutions to focus on their key competencies and showcase their contributions, rather than constantly defending themselves from criticism.
Many public organisations are still relatively new to digital communication channels and do not yet use this dynamic medium to its full potential. Digital communication allows public institutions to expand their reach considerably and dramatically increase the visibility of their work. In contrast to prior communication channels, this new medium actually enables institutions to interact directly and immediately with their constituents. However, this direct link also triggers audiences’ expectations regarding interactivity. It is no longer sufficient to just design one-sided communication campaigns, Communication Managers need to create responsive communication channels and adjust their strategies accordingly.
Social media in particular offers Communication Managers opportunities to implement target-group oriented communication and enables the tailoring of content and messages to specific audiences. However, it is crucial to understand what the specific advantages and opportunities of the various platforms are, whether Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. Managing the diverse social media platforms and creating content suitable for each can be a daunting task. Our seminars offer the possibility of exchanging ideas and learning from other public institutions. They also include practical workshops where participants learn hands-on how to use various platforms and optimise their content-creation techniques.
While the awareness of senior management regarding the necessity of a professional social media presence has indeed risen in recent years, Communication Managers are still often left with relatively meagre budgets. In order to demonstrate the usefulness of social media and justify increased spending in this area, communications departments need to be able to document its impact through measuring and analysing the reaction to their activities.
The European Academy for Taxes, Economics and Law strives to be a platform for the exchange of best practices and new ideas in the field. In our seminars and trainings, we showcase innovative approaches from public organisations. The different perspectives of our experienced speakers and our participants from various public institutions contribute to a unique atmosphere of learning in which diverse ideas and concepts can be discussed, refined and expertly improved.