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What we do is more likely risk management, than crisis management

As communication professionals we often loosely talk about our work in crisis management when we mean risk management/reputation management.  I was pleased therefore to be among those who enjoyed a presentation on Risk Management by Dr Andrew Powell from Asia Biobusiness at NIWA one night last week.

As we live increasingly in a risk society, he addressed the science of communication in high- risk situations.

As he put it there are three areas of risk communication:  outrage management, crisis management, and precautionary advocacy, and it is the latter two that most of us are called on deal with routinely.

I hear you ask: what’s the difference?

For example, in the food sector; ‘Outrage management’ deals with the everyday risks like natural versus industrial (e.g. GMO communication).  ‘Crisis communication’  is, for many of us, about serious food contamination and food-borne disease, not just an insect in your soup, while ‘precautionary advocacy’ is about managing communication around the likes of healthy eating campaigns, designed to create awareness, not alarm people.

In managing ‘outrage’, one does well to remember that awareness does not bring about acceptance and audiences are generally resistant to data.  They are far more interested in what people value, and 95% of people are influenced by social, ethical and personal aspects of risk.

Dr Powell believes that in risk communication there is too much focus on benefits, and too little acknowledgment of the risks.

In managing risk, firstly acknowledge it, and work through what the risks are. Only when they are clearly identified can you then develop a message map for each stakeholder group.

It is a long held truism that it is important to remember when managing outrage:  
PEOPLE NEED TO KNOW THAT YOU CARE BEFORE THEY WILL CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW. 

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