Yet again, there has been a terror strike in the capital city of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh – Hyderabad.
As always, the ruling government and its leaders have in their ‘usual’ language condemned the act of terror with the usual vocabulary meant for such occasions – a dastardly act, an act of terror, an attack on the Indian democracy etc.
For those who observe such incidents – now happening with an alarming regularity in India – it’s a sad and tragic sense of deja vu, that comes to haunt this country and its people again, and always.
Terrorism by the extremist elements who are against resolution of their grievances through democratic ways and means, is no less a grave problem that faces a country like India, given its history, and geo-political fit.
But more than that, what may continue to inspire such elements in continuing their thirst for blood and such inhuman acts is not just the actions by those in power.
It is equally inspired (with hesitation, one could use the world emboldened) by the confusion in communication or communication strategy by those who hold power.
The moment the unequivocal message from the ruling class is – we will not tolerate (the words in their truest sense) such acts, by whomsoever doing this – there will be a strong deterrent by the terror outfits – making them think that their ‘jehadi’ acts will not work.
Contrary to that, the communication strategy by the government is being carefully ambiguous – more keen to assuage the feeling of some sections of the society where some of these elements may belong to.
Add to that, the new tendency of the rulers to use colors to depict the kind of terror – red, blue, green and what not. Lack of assertiveness and conviction in articulating – with the message “irrespective of who, belonging to where” attack people in the name of religion, had clearly given more courage to such attackers, their supporters, the communities in question, and whoever give those people safe haven.
Terrorism breeds in a climate where the right words – not just verbal condemnation and routine drab statements – are used by the government and state/central administration.
Add to this the coloring attempts based on vote bank convenience – if your terror is of a certain color, then there are a hundred other factors to be seen before the right punishment is meted out… and you keep making a perennial cocktail in which innocents lose life, and the perpetrators continue to do so at will.
In handling terrorism, and the terror elements, the choice of words matter as much as the deeds, by those holding office.
Here is a simple yet powerful example – post 9/11, President Bush said “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.. we will hunt them down, in whichever corner of the world they may be”.
In contrast, immediately after the attacks yesterday evening in Hyderabad, India, Dr Singh Indian PM said “”The guilty will not go unpunished.”
Its so much different from “the guilty, whomsoever, will be punished quickly.” What plays in the choice of words is not the conviction to act, but what fallout usage of tough words will cause.
To take terror and its roots head on, the country and its administration first need to communicate with power and conviction.
The right actions by all concerned will be a natural fall-out.
Ambiguity in whether to really deal with such acts (color depending) will be a good recipe for empowering rogue elements.
- Hyderabad Bomb Blasts: Two Deadly Explosions Leave Terror Cloud over India (world.time.com)
- India police say were warned about Hyderabad bomb threat (dailystar.com.lb)
- US Stands With India in Combating Terrorism (indiatimes.com)
- Terror strikes Hyderabad again (thehindu.com)
The word battle ready might sound ominous, but that is how spokesperson must be always.
There could be a call from anywhere in the globe on something which happened a few minutes ago, and which would have an impact on the company or its fortunes. It’s a viral world and not always does the spokesperson have the luxury of having information by the minute.
But the ability to respond in an appropriate manner to any query from anywhere is one quality which is a must!
The spokesperson does not have a magic wand to all queries, and it is important to admit that – the best answer when confronted with an uncomfortable or ill-informed query is very simple – give me a while and we will come to you with the facts!
But most times, out of a quest to close the issue, and under pressure of the situation, the response is a bit casual. This is a perfect recipe for inviting negative media, and possibly messing up an already fluid situation.
In case the spokesperson needs any coaching in this front, the organization must provide it time and again.
Most organizations tend to have the belief that spokesperson must be suave and possess extra-ordinary skills in communication, particularly verbal. Yes, this is an added advantage. But that is certainly not a pre-requisite at all. In fact, track some PR crises and how suave spokesperson handled them – you will see that the over-confidence that comes out of being suave and flamboyant brings in a tinge of arrogance – a perfect recipe for many a media disasters!
Facts, put across in simple language with amazing clarity and miles ahead of a suave and ambiguous, arrogant and just too casual remark.
The term spokesperson, in the present scenario, is a misnomer in a way! The spokesperson or your media representative not just has to speak, but to respond in other media – mails, newsletters, and social networks… an endless list this can be. He must be competent in handling all this – yes with speed, but more than speed in a language that is appropriate and publishable to the world!
Many PR careers have been shunted by usage of inappropriate language, unintended it may be – someone somewhere leaks it out when things go out of the hand! The mantra ought to be state the facts and only facts, in a language that can be scrutinized anytime later.
While speed of response is a paramount criterion, it never can be at the cost of language that reflects an unprofessional attitude!
Sometimes, it does happen that the chief executive himself is the spokesperson – this is mostly when there is a larger than life event, or a huge crisis etc. – whatever be the reason, the past shows that the top management, out of their familiarity with the media, take to a casual approach in handling queries – and this sparks of a full blown PR debacle!
It’s important for senior leadership to take to some caution in handling such situations, and to repeat, facts mist not be colored by style and the way it is delivered!
Hope these simple yet powerful tips help your spokesperson to handle PR situation better! And as an organization, make sure the needy training is imparted through PR professionals, if it will help!