Bulletin / ​“Peace in our...

​“Peace in our time” - Donald and Kim: A Crisis Communications View

Author: Charlie Maclean Bristol, Training Director, FBCI, FEPS

Following the first summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, Charlie outlines how crisis communications can be used effectively to manage an incident and meet the expectations of stakeholders.

There was no doubt that the meeting between President Trump and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un was historic, but the debate surrounded how successful it was. President Trump had no doubt that it was an extremely successful meeting and he told the world that they could sleep soundly in their beds, tweeting “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea”. 

Trump supporters took the view that he had achieved something that all the other Presidents before him had failed to do, especially Obama, and pointed to his prowess as an expert deal maker and diplomat. On the other hand, many diplomats, world leaders, journalists and those not so keen on the President’s way of conducting diplomacy, point to the lack of a substantive signed statement, and the ceasing of USA and Korean war games without anything in return. They also point to the fact that all previous agreements and good intentions by the Northern Koreans have been cheated on and have not resulted in the destruction of their nuclear weapons. Whose interpretation of the meeting is proved right in the long run will only be seen in hindsight. Even hindsight may not give us the definitive answer of who was right, as the effect and legacy of many historical events are debated.

So, what is the relevance to crisis communication? For a long time, I have tried to demystify the process of crisis communication and put together processes and options for handling crises, rather than leave it to PR/crisis communication professionals who claim it is an art. PR people have an important part to play as advisors and their experience can be invaluable, but I think those of us involved in this industry need to have an understanding of the basics of crisis communications.

As part of my teaching on crisis communications, I believe one of the first things incident teams should do at all levels is identify the relevant stakeholder for the incident. I teach that communication is one of the most important activities you will carry out in incident response and your stakeholders will define how successfully you managed an incident. If your stakeholders think you managed it well, then you were successful and vice versa. Your own perception of how you did, is much less important.

Along with identifying the stakeholder for the incident, for each of them, you need to decide the following:

1. How you will contact them

2. What they want from you in terms of actions and information

3. When they want to be informed

This is the basics and the next step is to post them into four boxes to further
understand how they need to be managed. I suggest you put them into a Boston matrix consisting of:

1. Obstacles - You have to focus as much effort in winning these stakeholders
over, as they may make or break your solution. They have high stockholder
influence, but low Stakeholder support.

2. Champions - These are your key stakeholders whose support and influence you need to maximise to your advantage. They have high stockholder influence and high Stakeholder support.

3. Grumblers - Keep these stakeholders informed throughout, but do not spend too much time on them. They have low stockholder influence and low Stakeholder support.

4. Friends - These are your supporters who you need to keep happy and consulted. They have low stockholder influence, but high stakeholder support.

This lets you focus on the people who really matter in the incident and allows you to ignore the noise of those who may want to comment on the incident or make themselves heard, but you are not really worried if they are angry or their needs are not met.

Once you have done your segmentation, you need to be self-aware as an organisation to understand what they thought of you before the incident and whether the incident reinforces their view. For example, if you have a reputation for poor customer service, such as United Airlines, does the incident play to this view or are you like Volkswagen, who had a good reputation before they were caught cheating the diesel emissions tests. You can then start to concentrate and tailor your message to those you really care about.

At this time, you need to decide whether your key stakeholders have a preconceived view of your organisation and if, regardless of what you say, they are going to take a negative view or whether they can be won around either by your words, actions or both! This brings me back to the Kim and Trump summit. As President Trump is such a polarising person, many have stopped looking at the facts or listening to the communications and they have a view on the situation before it even takes place. I hope your organisation is not such a polarised organisation and many of your stakeholders will approach your incident with an open mind. If this is the case, you can use the techniques outlined in this bulletin to help you effectively manage an incident and your stakeholders will think your response was very successful.

Note the quote at the top is from Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in his 30
September 1938 speech and should read “Peace for our time”, but I think most people recognise it as the above!

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