The Grenfell Tower fire and its aftermath serves as a case study in how not to communicate in a crisis so awful that six years on the fire feels as visceral today as it did then. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry revealed the way in which the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea abjectly failed to respond to the needs of the bereaved, survivors and residents as well as the wider community.
Communication lay at the heart of the failure to plan and respond effectively. “All the processes and procedures will be of no benefit if they fail to take account of the human cost of the impact of the crisis.” Amanda writes powerfully about the vital need to understand, who the community or communities may be, adding,
“Our communication must consider diversity, equality an inclusivity from the moment we have to acknowledge that the crisis has happened.”
The second edition of this indispensable handbook for the modern communicator is filled with advice, tips, case studies and the calm voice of experience. Amanda Coleman published the first edition of this book in 2020, but the principles she sets out are not new nor unknown by the communications profession. They are the building blocks of successful crisis communication.
Amanda takes a logical structure approach that asks if an organisation is ready for a crisis before then stepping through the stages of planning, responding, recovering and learning. As John Barradell – who took over leadership of RBKC after Grenfell – told EST in his interview last year, those in charge of resilience should have a direct line of sight to an organisation’s leader, so it is the same for communications.
Amanda expands on this point, “For the communicator attempting to work with a CEO who is not engaged with this area of work during a crisis it will be a very challenging uphill struggle.” The CEO, she adds, should have been through the exercises and the plans that have been developed.
In the chapter on response, Amanda asks who communications professionals can learn from and it is pleasing to see that she cites the emergency services along with the military. She recognises the nature of their work and the investment in planning and preparing for possible crises along with the time spent on exercising. She sets out eight key elements of the emergency services approach and those who are not part of this world will benefit hugely from her advice.
It is no surprise to see that disaster planner, Lucy Easthope has provided a quote at the front of Amanda’s book, she says it does something special and holds those affected by crisis at the heart of its approach. The confluence between resilience and communications is marked throughout.
Amanda writes in a later chapter, “Managing a crisis requires empathy, and it is vital to remember all the ways the situation has or can have an impact on people.” She’s right and with the tools in this book to guide both those working in communications roles and those who lead organisations, remembering this is a good start for a resilient organisation that can respond effectively when crisis happens.