Of Words and Crises

By Charmaine Trisha Louis, Diploma in Mass Communication | Republic Polytechnic

The choice of words used to communicate to the public during a crisis is essential, according to panellists at a session at All In! Young Writers Festival 2017.

Mr Joseph Barratt, chief executive of Mutant Communications, related an incident where the use of a wrong word during a press conference led to negative headlines for the company and eventual loss in revenue.

“They had the CEO talk, they had the head of marketing talk, the comms (the communication officer) and everything - everyone was all online and following the right line,” said Mr Baratt. “Then, they had the engineering guy talk and no one had briefed him properly and he used the word, ‘It’s because of a dirty pipe’.”

He added: “The words you use has an impact on everything. It’s everything from preparation early on and small things to make sure people are aligned on the sort of language that you use.”

DELIVERING USEFUL INSIGHTS: (from left to right) Speakers Mark Laudi from Australia, Cheryl Chua from Singapore,  Joseph Baratt from New Zealand and Walter Panganiban from the Philippines share their experiences as journalists and public relations practitioners at the All In! Young Writers Festival.  (Photo: Charmaine Trisha Louis) 

This means that everyone within the company – not just those in the public relations department - knows and is aligned with the communications strategy.

Beyond sharing their industry experiences, other panellists at the session on Crisis Communication at *Scape on March 12, 2017 also gave their tips to aspiring writers and communication specialists on dealing with crisis.

Mr Walter Panganiban, who has worked for international brands such as Kraft, Johnson & Johnson and Coca Cola, gave seven tips to the audience on communication during a crisis.

First, be sensitive. This means to acknowledge the emotions the other parties involved have experienced and not to discount their tragedy, Mr Panganiban said.

Second, be truthful. This will aid transparency.

Third, be responsible. Owning up to your shortcomings creates a more forgiving atmosphere when something goes wrong, Mr Panganiban said.

Fourth, be committed. As the situation is already bad, initiate something to make things better, Mr Panganiban said. “A sincere heart goes a long way,” he added.

Subsequently, be ready and prepare for any crisis that may occur. “We may not know the unknown but as the saying goes, ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’,” Mr Panganiban said.  

A company could also be proactive as it is always good to have prevention rather than to find a cure, he added.

Lastly, be good. “Being good to others should be expected from anyone. As a company, by doing so, it humanizes your brand,” Mr Panganiban said.

Mr Mark Laudi, a former journalist, said companies should look to the three ‘R’s - regret, reason and remedy - in crisis communication. He believes that saying sorry diffuses the situation. “I have yet to see somebody getting sued for saying sorry,” said Mr Laudi. “The key word is ‘I’m sorry’ and not ‘I apologise’.”