Redefining crisis communications: “Think like a person first”

Put yourself in the shoes of your audience, says M&C Saatchi's Rashmi Jeetendra

Rashmi Jeetendra_PR Director at M&C Saatchi

The Palestinian-Israeli humanitarian crisis has permanently altered my perspective as a communications specialist.

As someone who has spent considerable time in public relations, I’ve come to see my role as a communicator from a more human perspective.

We’re now focusing on thought leadership and humanising company news like never before. We’re giving voices and faces to the companies we represent to make them more relatable and trustworthy.

It’s an old phrase, but it’s never been more accurate than it is today: People Buy People. To adapt it to the M&C Saatchi PR perspective, People Believe People.

Now, applying this approach to crisis communications means that whether you are a communication advisor, consultant, or manager, you should think like a person first.

It starts with putting yourself in the shoes of your audience. Spend time on the platforms where they are most vocal, read their comments and engagements, and try to understand their sentiments, not mechanically but with a human touch.

Human emotions

Technology has made us somewhat robotic, as we often rely on word clouds to identify the most frequently used terms.

However, this approach disconnects us from the reality of human emotions. Word clouds can’t capture the nuances of sentiment that transcend mere words.

Let’s start by learning about cultures and histories that may be new to us or that we might not have been privy to, especially when they are close to home.

When trouble erupts nearby, it is our responsibility to learn about its complexities. If you don’t have the knowledge, seek guidance from those who do.

Being unaware or stating a lack of exposure to what is/has been happening as a reason for nonchalance is simply lazy.

So, learn, and then share your findings with your network based on the facts you’ve gathered.

Local sentiments

The UAE is a hub for international organisations, and many agencies here represent global companies that may not fully understand the local sentiments.

What the world is experiencing today is bound to reshape perceptions, behaviours, beliefs, and the sense of impact for the greater good. We must act as the windows of truth.

And since our job doesn’t permit us to rely on anecdotes, create a repository of the research you’ve collected to build and back your perspective.

Then, help your global clients gain a deep understanding of people’s emotions, appealing to the cause of humanity. But most crucial is to be transparent and truthful with our clients.

We owe it to them, to be honest reflections of the culture and diaspora we represent. How we, as consultants, act today is poised to redefine how we are perceived permanently.

Every PR professional reading this understands the frustration of explaining that we are not mere mouthpieces or content generators focused solely on publicizing achievements and investments. It’s only a small part of what we do.

Audience mindset

As the core of the landscape our clients operate in, we have the ability to absorb the true nature of our audience’s mindset. We can craft compelling stories that make brands relevant every day, not just during major events. So, there’s no reason to doubt our true capabilities now.

We have the power to help our clients/brands genuinely resonate with the sentiments of their audiences – no matter how mean the feat seems.

Challenge them to take a bold stance and encourage them to craft statements that sincerely connect with the audience. Moreover, encourage them to be aware of credible organizations that provide on-the-ground real-time help to those who need it, should they be able to support.

Our advice must convey unequivocally that how we act today, and most importantly, what we say, will leave a lasting imprint on consumers’ minds and choices in the future.

The world is hurting today; let’s guide our clients to join the conversation with true intent, and make a positive impact on people’s lives.

By Rashmi Jeetendra PR Director at M&C Saatchi