Saturday, July 23, 2011

Crisis Communication: Why the CEO is not the Best Spokesperson in a Crisis

As part of crisis communications, it is often necessary for organisations to put a “face” to the crisis. In view that the spokesperson must demonstrate top management's commitment, accountability and control of the situation, many organisations select their CEO to front the crisis. In my opinion, the CEO is not the most appropriate choice.

This is because studies have shown that communication is based on 93% body language and paralinguistic cues and only 7% on the words themselves. Thus, in the era of social media where videos or pictures of press conferences are readily available for viewing, scrutiny and analysis on a 24x7 basis, the spokesperson's ability to deliver a congruent message is crucial.

In a crisis, the CEO is usually fully aware of the facts of the situation and, in order to successfully manage the crisis, certain facts may need to be temporarily withheld from the public. In such instances should the CEO to be questioned by the media, his body language may “leak” indicators that he is being less than truthful. This in turn may do more harm than good.

It is therefore my opinion that the best spokesperson in a crisis, is not the CEO of the organisation, but the organisation's Director of Public Affairs (DPA). And, in order to prevent “leaks” when communicating with the media, the DPA should not be a member of the Crisis Communications Team. The creation of such a Chinese Wall, will additionally maintain the Director's credibility with the media in the event the media discovers that the organisation has been less than 100% truthful.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, the concept that 93% of communication is based on body language and only 7% on words is a myth. It is based on a misinterpretation of information in the book "Silent Messages" by Albert Mehrabian and Mehrabian goes on to state that it applies only to communications about feelings (pleasure, arousal, dominance) and like-dislike. It definitely does not apply to communications in general.

    A good crisis communications plan and effective preparation will include training a CEO to be an effective speaker during a crisis in which his/her involvement is indicated. With proper training most CEOs can be taught to avoid body language that would belie their words (just as other organizational executives, including PR people need to learn to avoid them.) There are times when it is essential to put the CEO in front of the public.

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