Content is King: 5 Tips for Risk Communication

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There are safety concerns about your product. The neighbours don't want your phone mast in their back yard. You need to tell the public what to do about the latest pandemic. These and many other similar challenges face spokespeople charged with communicating about risk. It's tough enough talking to the media at the best of times, without people's fears and concerns loading extra pressure on top.

To help succeed in this context, here are five tips related to the content of risk communication.

1) Provide practical advice - in uncertain times amidst wild speculation, one of the best things a spokesperson can do is provide reassurance by giving advice about things we do know, and actions we can take. Giving back a degree of control to the public helps them to cope better - and deal with the realities of the situation.

2) Content is king - spin and vague advice is unhelpful on a good day: in a crisis it can do great harm. People crave clarity, facts and information so they tune in tightly to the content of what spokespeople say and quickly dismiss or even discredit those with nothing valuable to add. Which lends credence to the old adage - "if you've got nothing useful to say, say nothing at all"

3) Avoid speculation and "fence-sitting" - speculation creates panic, often about the wrong thing. And fence-sitting ("it might be this, or it might be that") is just a waste of time. Avoid these traps by majoring on facts and leaving the speculation to others.

4) Prepare well - effective media training teaches the power of key messages: never is this more relevant than in the case of risk communication. Your messages must be clearly prepared and communicated to avoid confusion. This means knowing your agenda before you face the media and ensuring that you communicate your messages with fluency and precision. And it's simply irresponsible to put forward a spokesperson who stumbles over their words or who is unable to articulate themselves clearly during a crisis. It's bad for them, bad for your organisation and bad for the public that needs to understand the situation better

5) Keep it simple - at a time of raised anxiety the need to speak plainly and without jargon or management speak is more important than ever. The public need to understand what they're being told, so complex language should be avoided at all cost.

Risk communication is challenging. But with the right content you will have taken the first step to effectively informing and reassuring the public.

Jonathan Hemus is the founder of Insignia Communications - -a consultancy specialising in corporate reputation management and crisis communication. His experience in crisis management for a range of global corporations and public sector organisations has helped to protect and preserve many reputations. For regular insights into corporate reputation management, log on to Insignia's blog,

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