September 26, 2013
Public Relations In The Face Of A Tragedy
A child is injured at your facility, what do you do?
Recently, a high school athlete passed away during a sports practice. This unspeakable tragedy seems to happen almost every year someplace in America. While the family grieves, other onlookers try to find someone to blame. Then there’s the organization – a school, most often – left in the nearly impossible position of protecting its name while grieving with and for the family and friends of the child.
It happens far too often, and most of the time it is the result of an accident, not an avoidable mistake. But how do you start or continue a dialog when a child is injured or killed on your watch? What can public relations teach us about what to say when there are no words?
Ronn Torossian, founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, has the answer. “The number one factor is to communicate without accusing or pretending to understand. You can’t compare or correlate grief, so don’t try,” Torossian said.
But there are a few factors you can consider and aspects your PR communication should include.
#1 – Before anything else, express empathy
Don’t try to hurt for people, tailor your communication to be as circumspect and respectful as you would like someone to be if the roles were reversed. Sympathy in this situation will likely just come off as empty words and just drudge up hurt feelings. Empathy knows when to be silent.
#2 – Explain without accusing
Human error may be involved in the tragedy, but you have to figure out a way to communicate facts without pointing fingers. To explain the situation without accusing anyone.
#3 – Never pretend to comprehend
You do not understand what the loved ones are going through. Even if you (God forbid) went through exactly the same situation, you cannot understand exactly how they are feeling. Don’t pretend to.
#4 – Do not assume or presume
In these terrible circumstances, do not attempt to assume what the parent is thinking. Also, do not presume to understand what they know and how they feel about it. Or what they will do next. Everyone responds differently to shock and to grief.
Follow these guidelines and carefully consider each and every step in the communication process. While this may not feel like the time to be careful of your image, people will judge you and your brand by how you react.