OPED: President Morsi: Do you have a crisis communication team in place?
By all appearances last night, the answer is “no”.
Last night’s domestic terrorist attack in North Sinai along the Egypt/Israel border claimed the lives of sixteen Egyptian soldiers. They were slaughtered in a surprise attack, just as they were preparing to break fast and enjoy their “iftar” meal.
The slow and ineffectual response by the Egyptian government proves they do not have an effective crisis communication team in place:
“The most challenging part of crisis communication management is reacting – with the right response – quickly. This is because behavior always precedes communication. Non-behavior or inappropriate behavior leads to spin, not communication. In emergencies, it’s the non-action and the resulting spin that cause embarrassment, humiliation, prolonged visibility… ” – Seven Dimensions of Crisis Communication Management, by James E. Lukaszewski
President Morsi’s brief address to the nation, six hours after the attack, was a public relations disaster. Standing in front of a black Mercedes (with driver at the wheel), Morsi gave a stiff, almost robotic, unemotional statement to the nation. His body language, and waiting car, suggested he was late for his “suhoor” and this greatly annoyed him.
Sixteen families lost a son last night. A nation was looking for answers. When a nation is attacked and lives are lost, a President’s immediate job is to console, explain, reassure and lead. President Morsi’s Mercedes backdrop, stiff body language, and rushed, angry tone failed on all accounts last night.
The Office of the President must have a professional communications team in place to deal with day-to-day messaging and have multiple crisis communications plans and personnel in place. Now.
In the short term (next 72 hours), there are several steps President Morsi should take to console, explain, reassure and lead this great nation:
- This morning’s announcement of a three-day period of national mourning is a good first step, but he needs to do more than just have a black band on the corner of our television screens. The President should immediately
go to El Arish andvisit the wounded in the hospital. Further, he should call all sixteen of the families who lost sons last night and attend as many funerals as he can. People need to see him pay his respect to Egypt’s soldiers.
UPDATE: According to ahramonline, President Morsi visited El Arish this afternoon. Report does not indicate if he visited any of the wounded soldiers.
- President Morsi should claim the mantle of statesman immediately. Last night was a terrorist attack on both Egypt and Israel. He should contact his Israeli counterpart, President Shimon Peres, and publicly thank Israel’s border security for their swift action in counterattacking the terrorists as they fled. Further, he should ask for Israel’s joint cooperation in investigating the perpetrators of this cowardly act.
- Morsi should also reach out to Bedouin leaders. Or as they should be called: Egyptians. Use this crisis to welcome Bedouins back into the fold as rightful citizens of Egypt and seek their cooperation in bringing these terrorists to justice.
- The President needs to reassure Egyptians with more detail beyond the vow of revenge and reports of helicopter gunships scouring the border. Get ahead of the rumors swirling about the origin of this attack. Who were the terrorists? What are the names of those killed in the assault? What are their nationalities? Reassurance and confidence comes from full transparency. President Morsi should use this crisis to usher in a new generation of leadership in Egypt. He needs to give Egyptians the truth and trust them with a contract of full transparency.
- President Morsi needs to assert his leadership and demand a full and independent investigation of the army. How can sixteen highly trained soldiers be ambushed and slaughtered in a high-risk security zone? His Defense Minister, Field Marshall Tantawi, has been absolutely silent in the aftermath of this attack. But for eighteen months, under Tantawi’s leadership, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has been heaping praise upon themselves as the defenders of Egypt via their Facebook page. Morsi needs to demand answers – on behalf of the sixteen soldier’s families and the nation – as to how this kind of attack happened on Egyptian soil.
Part of being a successful leader is how you handle yourself in a crisis. President Morsi failed last night. He needs get control of this crisis and step up. Egyptians need to be consoled. They need a statesman. They deserve honest explanations. They need reassurances President Morsi has “got this”. It is time for him to lead.
And finally, President Morsi needs a professional crisis communications team:
“The success of any business, utility or organization rests firmly on its reputation. That’s why businesses, nonprofit organizations, governments… hire public relations professionals to portray them as beneficial, trustworthy and concerned members of the community.
“But, all that careful image crafting can be destroyed by one poorly handled crisis. A ‘crisis,’ in public relations terms, is any event that draws intense, negative media coverage and interferes with normal business activity. Crises can cost organizations millions of dollars to repair or can potentially put them out of business for good…” – How Crisis Communication Plans Work, by Dave Roos
ADDITIONAL RESOURCE: Nice summary of events, including statements from numerous political leaders, by @Zeinobia on Egyptian Chronicles, “#Sinai: Bad night, bad morning“.