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Risk and Crisis Communications: Methods and Messages

ISBN: 978-1-118-09344-3
224 pages
July 2011
Risk and Crisis Communications: Methods and Messages (1118093445) cover image

The go-to guide for learning what to say and how to say it

In this climate of near constant streams of media messages, organizations need to know how to effectively communicate risks to their audiences and what to say when a crisis strikes. Risk and Crisis Communications: Methods and Messages is designed to help organizations understand the essential components of communicating about risks during a crisis, and it carves out a role for safety health and environmental (SH&E) professionals in the process.

Covering common theoretical concepts and explaining the positions of noted experts in the field such as Peter Sandman and Vincent Covello, the book provides a fundamental understanding of the process behind crafting effective messages for a variety of different situations and explains the consequences of saying the wrong thing to an emotional audience. Incorporating numerous case studies—including the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and the 2010 H1N1 pandemic—it shows how messages can change the way an audience perceives an event and how they react to it, clearly demonstrating how ineffective messages can create untold difficulties for an organization's public image.

Savvy SH&E professionals know that their role in helping to craft risk and crisis messages as well as assisting in the execution of risk communication plans provides a critical path to becoming more valuable members of their organizations. Risk and Crisis Communications: Methods and Messages provides invaluable assistance in helping SH&E professionals add value to their organization.

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List of Tables ix

Preface xi

1 INTRODUCTION 1

2 GENERAL CONCEPTS OF RISK AND CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS 5

Historical Background 5

Key Defi nitions 7

The Stages of a Crisis 10

The Process of Communication 11

The Purpose and Objectives of the Communication Event 13

References 17

3 COMMUNICATION FUNDAMENTALS AND THEORETICAL FOUNDATIONS 19

Audience Perceptions of the Communicator 19

Trust and Credibility 21

Four Theoretical Models 25

The Risk Perception Model 26

The Mental Noise Model 28

The Negative Dominance Model 28

The Trust Determination Model 29

Risk = Hazard + Outrage 30

High Hazard/Low Outrage ("Watch out!") 31

Medium Hazard/Medium Outrage (Stakeholder Relations) 32

Low Hazard/High Outrage ("Calm down!") 32

High Hazard/High Outrage ("We'll get through this together.") 33

Mental Models 33

Functional Lines of Communication 35

Care Communications 35

Consensus Communications 36

Crisis Communications 36

The Excellence Theory 37

The “Stickiness” of Messages 38

References 38

4 CRAFTING RISK AND CRISIS MESSAGES—SETTING GOALS AND OBJECTIVES AND AUDIENCE PROFILING 41

Key Successful Message Development Concepts 41

Message Crafting—Determining Purpose and Objectives 43

Message Development Constraints 45

Profi ling Audiences—Who Are They and What Do They Want? 46

Profi ling Audiences—How Do They Process and Perceive the Risk? 50

References 52

5 CRAFTING RISK AND CRISIS MESSAGES—DEVELOPING THE WORDS 55

Crafting Messages—Overarching Principles 55

Conveying Empathy 57

Audience Emotions—Anger 59

Audience Emotions—Mistrust 63

Audience Emotions—Fear, Panic, and Apathy 63

Message-Crafting Techniques 66

Infl uence Diagrams—The Mental Models Approach 67

Message Mapping 70

References 75

6 DELIVERING THE MESSAGE WHILE AVOIDING COMMON MISTAKES 77

Message Delivery Templates 77

The Use of Visuals in a Communication Event 82

Delivering the Message in the Age of the Internet 85

Common Message Delivery Mistakes and Effective Corrections 89

Failing to Communicate Technical Information 89

Failing to Help the Audience Understand the Uncertainly of Most Risk Information 90

Trying to Compare Risks 90

Making Value Judgments about "Acceptable" Levels of Risk 90

Being Concerned That an Audience Will Panic 91

Using Words That Imply Negative Behaviors 91

Responding Too Quickly or Not Quickly Enough 91

Failing to Speak with One Voice 92

The Use of Content Analysis and Readability Analyses 93

Evaluating the Communication Event 94

References 98

7 WORKING WITH THE MEDIA 101

Level of Organizational Expertise 102

Advance Development of Relationships with the Media 103

The Various Roles of the Media 104

Constraints of the Media and Media Representatives 105

What the Media Needs from an Organization 106

Fair Media Coverage 108

Developing a Media Communications Plan 109

Getting the Accurate Message Out 110

Choosing a Spokesperson 111

Preparing for an Interview 113

After the Interview 114

References 119

8 DEVELOPING A RISK AND CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS PLAN 121

Defi ning Acceptable Risk 122

Risk Assessment Tools Summary 122

Key Planning Guidelines and Processes 124

Key Plan Elements 129

References 131

9 SPECIAL RISK AND CRISIS COMMUNICATION SITUATIONS 133

Crisis Communication Principles 133

Worst-Case Scenarios 135

Dealing with an Outraged Audience in a Crisis 137

Dealing with an Ambivalent Audience in a Crisis 138

Some Additional Guidelines 141

Dealing with Fatalities 141

Dealing with Rumors 144

References 150

10 CASE STUDIES 153

The H1N1 Pandemic of 2009–2010 154

Involvement of Stakeholders in the Strategy Planning Process 155

Public Health Education about Pandemics 157

How Bad Is a Pandemic Really?—Reducing Trust and Credibility 161

Over-Reassuring the Public about Vaccine Availability 163

Success of the Government's and Public Health System's Efforts 170

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill 171

Profi ling the Audience—Risk Perception 173

Understanding the Technical Nature of the Spill 173

Trust and Credibility 178

Worst-Case Scenario—How Much Oil? 179

Worst-Case Scenario—How Long Until the Leak Is Stopped? 186

Choosing a Spokesperson Wisely and Knowing When to Let Them Go 188

References 189

11 SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS 193

Theoretical Models and Frameworks 194

Crafting Risk and Crisis Messages 195

Message Delivery 197

Working with the Media and Choosing a Spokesperson 199

Developing a Risk/Crisis Communications Plan 201

Special Risk and Crisis Communications Situations 202

Case Studies 205

What It All Means for You and Your Organization 206

References 207

Index 209

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Pamela (Ferrante) Walaski is the President of JC Safety & Environmental, Inc., a health and safety consulting firm and is a frequent speaker and seminar presenter on the topic of risk and crisis communications. She holds both the CSP and CHMM designations, and writes regularly for the leading professional journals. She is both chair of the Technical Publications Advisory Committee and administrator of the Consultants Practice Specialty of the ASSE, and was a contributing author to The Safety Professionals Handbook. In 2011, she was the recipient of the ASSE President's Award.

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“However, given the balance of theory and practical information in Walaski’s book, it is certainly a good addition to the library of risk and crisis communications professionals.”  (Technical Communication, 1 November 2012)

 

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