AB Thinks  →  20th May 2020

Crisis communication at the coalface

AB Thinks

In the latest episode of The Internal Comms Podcast, Katie chats with an expert in crisis comms. Amanda Coleman is a former Director of Corporate Communication at Greater Manchester Police. During her time in that role she dealt with the Manchester Arena bombing, the city’s riots in 2011, the murder of two police officers and the untimely death of chief constable, Michael Todd.

These experiences put her at the forefront of crisis comms and she’s now brought together her thinking, guidance and advice into a new book: Crisis Communication Strategies.

As well as discussing what prompted her to write the book, Amanda talks about the importance of trust, empathy and the frontline in communications – topics that are more important than ever.

Below are some of the key points we took from her chat with Katie.

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#1 The corona crisis in context
“There are some crises that are so vast there’s no return to normal, this is going to be the new normal. The only one for me that springs to mind is 9/11 because globally, the impact of that was so massive. It changed lots of things around travel. This is the same, this is going to be a new normal. And the sheer scale and impact of this, I think, is what outweighs everything else. We’re all personally dealing with it because it’s impacted us all in some way, whether we’re in lockdown or home schooling. And as a communicator, you have also then got to do your job, which is to process all the information and advise on it.”

#2 Putting people first – no matter the situation
“You can’t forget the people that are involved whether they’re the ones responding to the issue or they’re affected by it. If your approach isn’t doing that now, it will very quickly be called out. The key thing for any kind of crisis for any organisation is going to be leadership and we see it now. You can see really good leadership examples coming through, you can see poor ones. Within that is the humanity and empathy and that’s something else I have been very focused on. Really worthy, effective communication at the minute, and where it should be when you look at having a people-focused approach, is around humanity and empathy – really understanding what people are experiencing.”

#3 Building trust and confidence
“The important way you will get to that position of trust and confidence, and be a trusted advisor, is that you understand the business and how it operates, you understand what it means to employees. It’s a lot of what’s not supposedly communications work that’s important because if you can’t understand what makes the business tick and how it does X, Y and Z and what that means for the CEO, or whoever is in charge, you’re not going to be able to speak the language they need you to.”

#4 The importance of the frontline
“If you think of a supermarket, or any business really, every person that works for them will be potentially interacting with the public. They can help people, they can help the situation you’re dealing with or they can cause confusion, and cause concern and spark a run on toilet roll again. All those things could happen so easily, so absolutely your employees need to be first. They need to know what’s happening, what they can say and when they need to be honest and say ‘we can’t tell you X, Y, Z but this is the position and go to these channels for more information’. They’re so fundamental to the success of it.”