Right now we are having nominations for parties or rather we had them most of them yesterday. As seen yesterday there were issues with major parties nominations. Some parties were accused of favoring certain candidates. TNA had to postpone some of its election nominations to today. There was chaos and violence in some areas. Then there was the drama of disgruntled candidates moving to other parties or getting locked out of nominations. These issues if not handled well can lead to a crisis situation. As we saw yesterday there were many issues that came up with the nominations. If well prepared with a crisis communication plan in advance a party can minimize the damage caused to its reputation. Having studied Crisis communication and media relations as part of my Masters let me give a few insights into what the parties could have done or can do to contain such situation.
The Cambridge Learners Dictionary defines a crisis as a situation or time that is extremely dangerous or difficult. According to Fearn-Banks, (2007) crisis communications is concerned with the transferring of information to significant persons (publics) to help avoid or prevent a crisis (or negative occurrence), recover from a crisis, and maintain or enhance reputation. You can say that crisis communication is part of disaster or risk preparedness.
Crisis communication is a case of knowing that there will be a fire and having different fire extinguishers to deal with the fire. Surprisingly both TNA and ODM have professional PR people but the way they handled the public and media you get the idea that there was no crisis plan in place or if there was there was no coordination of this. In this case the parties should have anticipated some of the issues that could come up with nominations. Some of these are violence, ballot papers not reaching in time, some of the nomination papers not being printed on time, the fact that many people going for nominations had to go back to work and defections at the last minute.
Every day there are issues that a communications officer has to deal with in order to enhance or protect the public reputation of the organization they are working with. But sometimes the reputation of a political party is put into disrepute due to a crisis. Ideally, a company or political party in this case should have a master plan for dealing with any crisis that may come up. Sometimes even when a crisis communications plan is in place it does not anticipate that a particular crisis will come up. The proper use of corporate communications techniques and having strong relationships with the media can help to at least minimize the effects of bad publicity. This is done by promoting the organization’s reputation in advance and responding appropriately when a crisis arises.
My friend Paul Barasa in his article A PR Perspective To Managing Party Nominations Crisis has talked about some ways to deal with some of the issues that came up yesterday (he actually inspired this article). Some of his suggestions including having a spokesperson, talking to journalists and having a team on social media.
I will go on to add a few things.
In the event of a crisis every effort will be made to communicate as appropriate to all publics including party members, the media, the public, and other target publics including the IEBC promptly and accurately. The media relations officer will be the primary information source available to the news media. When a crisis occurs, it is necessary for communications personnel to gather facts and data quickly, including the nature of the party’s response to the crisis.
A party should have a crisis committee that deals with everything that could come up and communications falls under that. The crisis committee will be responsible of the following: identifying, confirming, investigating crises, developing strategies for managing crises, and developing strategies for recovering from crisis incidents.
As members of the crisis committee, communications personnel will:
Provide a representative to the emergency operations center if activated.
Appoint a spokesperson to talk to the public. All information should be channeled to this person for them to make statements.
Control the release of information to members of the party, publics, stakeholders, and to the news media.
Maintain contact with the media. Also have people on social media responding to queries, updating information and interacting with the public on social media.
Establish and maintain a news conference if necessary.
In this case the person in charge of communication would receive notifications of incidences, designates initial facts and updates from committee, prepares initial statement for release, fields media inquires to office, briefs person identified as spokesperson, joins emergency operations team, if activated, provides updates to senior management and gives information to the media.
Notification is an extremely important process in managing crisis and sending the right messages to all audiences. When notification goes well, it makes the rest of the crisis communication jobs more streamlined and effective then when it doesn’t.
A spokesman should have been identified for the party before the crisis not during the crisis. A spokesperson should be somebody who is believable, knowledgeable, articulate, and accessible. The person can then be trained on dealing with the media and also coached on how to talk to the party’s publics. To be a good spokesperson is not only about being able to talk. It’s about being able to stay calm under pressure, be able to speak to audiences in simple terms that they can understand, being able to understand what the situation is, and be able to give intelligent answers even without not having all the information. Some of the things a spokesperson should not do are not to speculate, answer questions they don’t understand or be rude. Some party members clearly should not be allowed to be spokespersons. They are so rude they antagonize the very publics they are trying to win over. I don’t have to tell you who those people are. Try to get either a professional or a person who is loved by both the public and the media.
To effectively communicate the message, it’s essential to understand who the audiences are. In this case there were the members of the party, the IEBC, the government, the media and members of the public.
There are two key types of audiences during a crisis:
1. People directly affected like party members.
2. People whose attitudes about the party might be influenced by information about the emergency and how it was dealt with.
These two types of audiences are broken into seven categories. Communication objectives in dealing with each of the audiences are listed below.
Members of the party. It would be important to let party members know that they are valued and that their votes count. Members needed to be given information regarding what was happening as soon as possible. This must be accomplished in a manner that assures members that the party values them, has their best interests at heart and that it can effectively handle emergencies. Yesterday some of the parties did not communicate to members in time. This left members angry especially when many had to take time off work to go for nominations and then there were glitches. Also the parties needed to reassure party members that there was no rigging in of candidates.
Community residents. The parties knew that in some areas there was the threat of violence or riots. In such areas the parties should have made sure there was added security even if it meant hiring more security personnel such as policemen than what was offered. Yesterday people were tense because they feared violence in certain areas. Children in public schools didn’t attend school just in case there was trouble meaning that even the government realized that problems could arise apart from the fact that nominations were happening in schools. It is important for parties and the IEBC as well to make surrounding community residents to know that they will take quick, effective stops to protect the public. This can be best accomplished by responding quickly to community concerns and need for information.
Party governing structure. This group need to be kept informed in the event of an emergency as well as to be accessible as a resource if necessary.
Stakeholders like the government. Key members of this audience need to be kept appraised of the emergency situation as deemed appropriate due to level of the crisis.
Potential party members and the public need to know that the party is concerned about the crisis and is doing something about it.
News media and social media. Dialogue with both online audiences and mainstream media is important. It is important to show that the party is credible, concerned, and effective at dealing with emergencies and that they understand and meet the unique needs of each type of media.
With 44 days to the election parties can still make a crisis management plan if they don’t have one. Communication with publics is very important. A party’s reputation can be badly dented by not communicating to publics in time and lose credibility with members as well as other stakeholders. Attached is a CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS OUTLINE FOR A PARTY with a brief outline of what to do in a crisis situation.
Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary, (2001), Low price edition, Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom.
Fearn-Banks, K. (2007), Crisis communications: a casebook approach, 3rd edition, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., publishers, New Jersey.
Barasa, P. (2013), A PR Perspective To Managing Party Nominations Crisis. http://youngprkenya.blogspot.com/2013/01/managing-party-nominations-crisis.html