Thursday, March 13, 2014
There is a special stress for communicators in a crisis that won't resolve. It drags on from day to day without resolution, without facts to explain what happened, without information for those affected. This is the case with Malaysia Airlines. It is no closer to finding its missing plane today than it was six days ago, and conflicting statements made to relatives of the 239 passengers have made things worse. There is little or nothing one can say other than to rebut rumor and to iterate what little one knows. As of last night, authorities weren't even sure which way the plane was traveling. They are searching a vast area for something less than a needle in a haystack. There is a good chance they will never find wreckage nor bodies nor anything else to bring closure to affected families. The communicator is reduced to saying, "We don't know" in as many ways as possible and accepting the anger of those demanding answers. The worst part of ignorance is that one cannot learn if what happened will occur again. Will other Boeing 777s suddenly fall from the sky? Everyone has an urgent interest in finding the facts, but there aren't any.
One thing communicators need to do in this situation is not simply rehash "We don't know" in as many ways as possible, but to also use the words "We understand your pain and grief," or anything that empathizes with the families and friends of those lost. Also creating lines of communication for counselling and other grief services is another good PR move. And of course, PR communicators should remain calm, and not get frustrated, even if the situation is frustrating.