When things get messy, don’t rely on ‘your flow’, rely on the experts
It’s been a rough few months for a few good Ghanaian men and women. It seems that every time we read the news these days, there’s a story about someone in a bit of trouble who, in their own wisdom, has chosen to represent themselves and send out a press release or a social media message to tell their side of the story
’s start from June this year and go over the instances of those who have been aggrieved and sent out a press statement, outbursts followed by retractions and clarifications, retractions or apologies, and more statements.
There was Tony Lithur’s widely circulated unflattering divorce petition, after which Nana Oye Lithur released a statement in which we were asked to, among other things, “pray for us” and that the “unfortunate allegations against me cannot be true.”
On the heels of the Lithur drama, Kennedy Agyapong joined in the fray, allegedly blurting out that Parliament was “cheap and useless”. Parliament cited him for contempt, and he was later called before the Privileges Committee, where he rejected calling Parliament “useless” and rendered an unqualified apology for calling Parliament “cheap”.
Then in August, the CEO of Ghana Limited, Nana Appiah Mensah, sent what many described as an unfortunate and unprofessional now-deleted tweet directed at the Bank of Ghana after the latter released a statement accusing Menzgold of breaching a section of the Banks and Specialised Deposit-Taking Institutions Act.
A week later, Appiah Mensah tweeted his sincere apologies for his “initial reaction to the Bank of Ghana press release,” which he attributed to the “fallible nature of man.”
A few days after the incident, Pastor Mensa Otabil released a statement about the collapse of Capital Bank a year ago in which he sought to clarify his role as non-executive.
In his statement, he indicated his continued cooperation with the Economic and Organised Crime Organisation (EOCO), and his concern for the well-being of those who lost their jobs. The response was swift.
Capital Bank staff stated that they did not need his sympathies, nor prayers; while many experts were of the opinion that the statement was unnecessary and that he sought to absolve himself of any blame.
This isn’t happening only in Ghana. The most widely publicised example was in May when American TV actress, Roseanne Barr, sent out what was described by many as a racist tweet about former Barack Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett. After the huge backlash, Barr sent a flurry of tweets , explaining why she wrote the tweet, giving reasons for her poor , and later deleted the tweet. All her efforts didn’t appear to make things any better and by that afternoon, ABC had the revival of her eponymous hit ’90s show.
These few examples illustrate how small the world has become. Thanks to social media, our slightest message is amplified almost immediately and message “senders” are many times unprepared for the groundswell of negative responses with which they are bombarded. The paradox is this age in which we have the capacity to share our points of view with a large audience by the click of a button is the same age where we must show the greatest restraint.
When an individual, corporation or brand is in trouble, it is instinctive to want to speak out immediately, especially when we believe we have nothing to hide. However, it is precisely that moment that one must carefully weigh the pros and cons of doing so.
Many in managerial positions also sometimes find themselves in grim situations, many times through no direct fault of theirs. No matter the reasons the best thing to do is work with a communication consultant instead of going at it alone and defending yourself or telling your side of the story in a tweet or a press release.
A good communication consultant is your strong advocate. Chosen wisely, they become your strategic partner, can the and situation and be able to formulate the best response to help mitigate the damage. Some can even anticipate potential challenges that could affect your reputation and develop strategies to negative outcomes.
At the end of the day, good communication consultants are like skilled attorneys. They will work hard to clear your name and protect you and your brand. They will help you navigate the challenging times, speak on your behalf and where necessary, coach you on how to handle the press. You are never alone.
On a recent edition of a global news programme, a world-renowned attorney representing a well-known client was pushed by the host to have his client speak up and clear the confusion surrounding the case. The attorney’s response was classic.
Though that solution made sense from a citizen’s perspective, he told the host, “from the point of view of a lawyer for a person who is under investigation, confusion is a good thing, not a bad thing, and … [my]… is under no obligation to clarify; only has an obligation to make sure that he doesn’t say anything that results in incriminating statements,” he concluded.
Many moons ago, many assumed the only reason one hired a communication consultant was to hide information. This is no longer the case. For many, handling the press simply isn’t second nature to them.
Those of us in the industry have spent most of our careers being good at taking the pulse of the marketplace. We know how to manage and hold conversations in ways that don’t escalate the situation. We know how to skillfully move conversations to allow our client’s side of the story to be heard. And we are able to work with our clients to prepare them to successfully engage with relevant audiences to address thorny situations.
The Ghanaian is a sophisticated consumer and it is no longer enough to think that the same arguments we make casually sitting with our friends and colleagues will be the right message to deliver to the Ghanaian public in a time of crisis.
Years ago, during my communication training programmes, the greatest difficulty for my participants was to come to the that they weren’t strong communicators. We all generally begin speaking around 18 to 24 months. That makes it tough to think we aren’t good communicators when we have been “talking” all our lives.
But talking isn’t the same as communicating. And if you still don’t think there is a difference, here are two expressions that highlight the difference between talk and communication: ‘Talk is cheap’, and ‘communication is the key to change’.
Many hardly see the need for a communication consultant. But a good communication consultant will protect you from yourself. We are always there, helping you to craft your responses appropriately and carefully to ensure that your words will stand the test of and that now, or later, a playback of your words will never leave you cringing.
So next time you feel the need to defend yourself, instead of reaching for your computer keyboard, reach for the phone qwerty keyboard and call your communication consultant. It just may be your best decision in the midst of the chaos.
The writer is a communication and crisis management consultant. She is currently CEO of Golightly Helem Consult (www.helemconsulting.com). She is a former president of the African University College of Communication.