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Importance of seamless communications during a crisis

One area commonly overlooked by most organisations is its readiness for crises and its crisis communications to stakeholders.

When a crisis hits, the pressure quickly mounts, and the swarm of media chasing a big crisis story can be quite intimidating if an organisation is not prepared. If it is not well-managed, such a crisis can harm the reputation and bottom line of the organisation.

Understanding the importance of crisis communications, Quest International University Perak (QIU) had the pleasure of having its council member, Mr Zaheer Merchant share his expertise during a public webinar titled “Crisis Communications: A Practical and Pandemic Guide”.

The talk, which was moderated by Dean of the Faculty of Social SciencesProfessor Dr Chan Nee Nee, saw more than 400 students, academics and external attendees from various industries benefit tremendously from the vast experience of the speaker.

The participants included personnel from the  Perak Association For the Intellectually Disabled (PAFID), students and academics from government and private universities, schools for students with special needs, hospitals, community newspaper The Ipoh Echo, organisations like Transparency International Malaysia and the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia, as well as a representative from the Prime Minister’s Department.

An alumnus of renowned institutions like Stanford University and the National University of Singapore Business School,  Mr Zaheer has practised law internationally, lectured and tutored, and is published in certain publications. He has spoken at international events organised by the United Nations, Horasis and ASLI. Currently, he sits on foundations and handles corporate, regulatory affairs and communications, with emphasis on crisis communications. He is also a member of the Middle Temple, UK and the Law Society of Singapore.

Mr. Zaheer started off by explaining how he ended up being proficient in the area of crisis communication. He explained that law could be used as a stepping stone to other careers. Taking himself as an example, he clarified how he started speaking on behalf of his clients to the media which was the beginning of his transition from law to corporate communications.

Emphasising the importance of being prepared for a crisis, he shared his 8-point crisis plan which starts off by being well prepared with clearly defined objectives of the communication plan. When putting the plan into action, the choice of the message and the right platform is very crucial as social media can be destructive with the wrong messaging. Constant monitoring of the media is crucial to understand the effectiveness of a crisis communication plan.

The audience was kept captivated as Mr Zaheer spoke very openly and with candour about real-life examples of labels and brands that were accessible and well-known to his audience while explaining the 8-point crisis plan.

He spoke about organisations such as Maxis, KFC, Starbucks, Boeing, Facebook and many others and how they reacted to a crisis situation faced.

He emphasised the importance of having the right spokesperson with good qualities and attributes as the face of the organisation during a crisis. The person should be well versed with the situation and prepared to answer questions.

Mr Zaheer then went on to take on questions from the audience which was very interactive indeed. The talk clearly motivated the audience to ask not only questions related to the COVID 19 pandemic but also touched on politics including the current hot topic on ‘Black Lives Matter”.

Finally, he concluded that honesty and integrity in the messaging should be the core of any successful crisis communication plan. It was indeed a great discourse as Mr Zaheer connected very well with the audience in this very thought-provoking and insightful sharing session which was beneficial to all who attended.

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