By Hasiya Haruna Wakili and Agurue Anthony
We are living witnesses to various crises in the country, especially triggered by ethno-religious conflicts and socio-political sentiments which could have been prevented through crisis communication strategies.
At a recent training organized by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, it was discovered that there is no way one can talk about crisis communication without discussing crisis management. They are intertwined towards achieving positive results in managing crises.
Crisis communication is a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, organization or community facing a public challenge to its reputation.
According to a communication scholar, Timothy Coombs, a crisis is the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization’s performance and generate a negative outcome. Therefore, crisis communication is the collection, processing, and dissemination of information that is required to address crisis situations.
Meanwhile, crisis management is the application of strategies designed to help an organization to deal with a sudden and significant negative event. A crisis can occur as a result of an unpredictable event or as an unforeseeable consequence of some event what had been considered a potential risk.
Through adequate public relations strategies, each crisis can be adequately managed. As is widely known PR is a management function that anticipates, analyzes and interprets public opinion, attitudes, and issues which might impact on the goodwill and operations of an organization. It also establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and public on whom its success or failure depends.
Some naturally-induced disasters like the Tsunami flood that ravaged homes and properties in Indonesia and Hurricane Katrina in the United States of America were tackled and managed by both crisis managers and communicators.
Similarly, Nigeria to some extent has experienced and managed floods in many states of the federation. Through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other stakeholders, the federal government has continued to address the recurrent heavy flooding, especially in riverine areas of Kogi, Anambra, Rivers, Bayelsa and others.
There were a lot of relief materials sent to the affected states to cushion the effect or damage caused by the flood. The Federal Government employed the services of public relations officers, media experts; information officers etc to conscientize and sensitize the affected communities within the state to move from flood-prone areas to higher ground areas in order to be safe.
The farmers and herders attack crisis in Nigeria has posed a threat to national security, a lot of people have also been displaced from their homes and livelihood. This also brought the attention of the government to institute committees involving public relations officers, media experts, relevant stakeholders, the security agencies amongst others to cushion the crisis to a halt.
Recently a communal crisis erupted in Kaduna State that took the nation to a shock, a lot of people majorly foreigners that came for business lost their lives, houses were burnt down even a community chief and his followers were killed after given a situational report on the crisis to the state governor.
The governor in a rapid respond directed all security agencies, media experts, public relations officers etc to calm the situation in order to avert any reprisal attack.
In addressing crisis management, public relations practitioners played a variable key function in crisis communication to the affected area which includes organizing press briefing and press conferences, promoting and maintaining good cordial relationship with the media and the people, arranging media tours and visits to affected communities, issuing press release and articles, engaging in social media awareness campaigns and monitoring media content on related issues.
Likewise, credit should be given to the role the media plays in addressing crisis management which promotes the public awareness on the subject matter to the knowledge of the public, they shape public opinion on crisis management through their medium and equally set agenda for further discussion to address the matter, thereby influencing decision makers for rapid respond to relevant stakeholders to cushion the crisis as well as support for the mobilization of resources and other relief material for the affected victims.
It would be wise setting up a team of senior executive officers of the public relations personnel. They should be identified to serve as the organization or institution’s crisis management team. Ideally, the organization chief executive officer will lead the team with the institutions to public relations executive, security agencies and other relevant stakeholders that manage the crisis.
Also, the public relations officer will be in the lead of intelligence gathering which is an essential component of both crisis prevention and response.
In conclusion, every organization, society, nation or even country is vulnerable to crisis at any point in time, therefore the need for effective and efficient crisis communication and crisis management team that should be very proactive to address the situation before it escalates or snowballs into an unimaginable proportion.
In view of this, therefore, the government at all levels, should devise and sustain crisis communication strategies by training its information officers on required skills to manage crisis through intelligence gathering, proactive approaches, and information management.
Most of all, crisis communication is effective through synergy and collaboration of stakeholders. Since crisis is something that can happen at any point in time, concerted efforts should be made by organizations in funding, equipping and empowering information and public relations officers to think ahead in order to avert unforeseen circumstance or crisis.
Wakili and Agurue are of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture and wrote in from Abuja