Today, we’re joined by Philippe Borremans. He’s an independent public relations consultant specializing in emergency risk and crisis communication. Philippe is currently president of the International Public Relations Association. He works on strategic communication projects for epidemic and pandemic preparedness with organizations like the World Health Organization, the European Union, and the West African Union. Today Philippe will guide us through the importance of strategic communication in emergencies and crisis and how this is should improve in both the public and private sectors.
As discussed during the show, have a look at the IPRA website: https://www.ipra.org/news/yearbook/
Today, we’re joined by Philippe Borremans. He’s an independent public relations consultant specializing in emergency risk and crisis communication. Philippe is currently president of the International Public Relations Association. He works on strategic communication projects for epidemic and pandemic preparedness with organizations like the World Health Organization, the European Union, and the West African Union. Before immigrating to Morocco, and then later to Portugal, he was the chief social media officer and CSR coordinator at the van Mackie trading group. During 10 years, Philippe has held several communications positions at IBM, including corporate and online communications on national and European level. Philippe started his public relations career at Porter Novelli International in Brussels. He’s a regular guest lecturer at universities and business schools across Europe and North Africa. (1:31)
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Philippe, you’ve spoken before about the difference between crisis communication and emergency risk communication, and the differences between corporate and public sector approaches to communications? Can you talk with our listeners about some of these differences?
Coming from the private sector, and then moving into now, emergency and capacity building sector from international organizations, I do think I can make a comparison, there are differences. There are also synergies, the main thing that I’ve seen is that both professions should talk to each other because we have a lot to learn from each other. So one of the things that I learned when being trained by who and other organizations and then going out on missions is this fantastic attention to the diversity of communities, the use of colleagues who have a background in anthropology and sociology. And that is something I think that we miss in the corporate world, we do our segmentation, as we call it, of audiences. But I haven’t seen really the social-cultural aspect in there. And we see that I think, in companies, let’s take a multinational, we’re in a pandemic, they need to communicate, and they roll out communication plans, internal communication plans, like all their employees are a single unit. Probably, of course, that communication will be translated from a language point of view. But it’s often not translated from a cultural point of view. And I think that is something that in the corporate world, we can learn because culture influences risk and risk perception…
Yeah, there is so much learning that we can do from each other about drawing on each other’s strengths and recognizing the differences in both how people hear and receive messages, but also Have people like to communicate the key issues that they’re dealing with? In the context of crisis, such as the COVID outbreak that we’re currently working through the media have played a crucial role in public awareness of the risks and of the current responses and restrictions. What can companies learn from the public health and government made communications in response to the current COVID pandemic?
Many companies have suddenly understood that activities like stakeholder segmentations stakeholder analysis, stakeholder mapping is something that you don’t just do once a year when you create your plan. It’s something that you do on an ongoing basis. I think that should be clear now because many companies have become active players in the emergency being the pandemic, which is probably something that they hadn’t foreseen. I mean, if you look at crisis plans, it’s often the usual suspects, fire flooding, and what have you, and then some specific to the industry. But nobody would have thought like, oh, we’re going to have to deal with remote workers, suddenly, we’re going to have to deal with risk perception and risk management, from an employee point of view, not from a corporate point of view, we’re going to have to be responsible for the health of all our employees, and not just by making sure they’ve got an insurance or something like that. That already, I think, is something that a lot of companies, hopefully, take with them later on in a couple of years when this pandemic is under control. And it’s something that we can manage and go on, but that they invest much more in that stakeholder mapping in that trend analysis, because every time someone tells me Oh, this pandemic, you know, this was something that we couldn’t have foreseen. I’m always amazed that people don’t that because it could have been, it’s on any kind of risk analysis map, on a national or international scale. There are at least 510 reports every year that come out who look at global potential risks, and epidemic changing into pandemic has been always on there for the last, what, five years…
Yeah, risk perception is the reality for the individual. And I think we sometimes forget that even if other people can see these risks. I mean, the global pandemic was not an unforeseeable event. Anyone who’s responded to the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa, or the cholera outbreaks in countless countries, or even just read, as you said, the multiple publications that organizations like the Center for Disease Control, or the World Health Organization produce every single year could see that it was only a matter of time before we had a global disease outbreak have significant concerns. But emergency risk communication cannot be ignored. And when it comes to emergency risk communications, what do you think organizations are governed? It’s getting right. And what do you think they need to do better?
What we’ve seen is that every single country is reacting on a different level, we have different speeds with different tactics. And in one way that is logical because the situation is not the same everywhere. On the other hand, there are a couple of things, I think that could have been better coordinated to on a European level, we are now in a period where some travel is possible, although it’s getting more difficult again than a couple of months ago. Let’s centralize this. We have the European Union, in this case, in other countries, there are other institutions that could centralize this. And that has not really happened. So what I think is that we have to understand and again, it comes back to cultural studies, sociological studies, where you need to really understand when you an emergency risk communicator, that Belgian will not react the same way to exactly the same message as a Portuguese would or as a Moroccan wood. And I think, again, that is about understanding culture. It’s about also trusting and working with and listening to local risk communicators, even if maybe they don’t have the same experience, they’ve not been trained. But those are the local people who completely understand how a message would be perceived how risk is perceived risk is completely different. We perceive the same risk between Morocco, Belgium, and Portugal, there’s a difference in risk perception on very simple things…
Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences. It was a pleasure to be on the show.