With Egypt, Obama shows deft crisis comms

Oftentimes the most challenging types of crises require you to respond to a dynamic set of events that are outside of your control.

Oftentimes the most challenging types of crises require you to respond to a dynamic set of events that are outside of your control.

It's difficult enough to communicate effectively when a crisis unfolds on a timeline of your choosing or when you can anticipate bad news. But broadcasting and sustaining your message in response to rapid, fluid, external forces is something else altogether.

Communicating during these types of crises requires an extraordinary amount of discipline, coordination, internal communication, leadership, trust, and adaptability.

President Obama's administration is in the midst of one of these crises right now.

For nearly two weeks now, Obama has had to respond to the crisis in Egypt – a situation that seems to be growing in its unpredictability and significance with each passing day. This has required the president to not only craft a message that threads a very narrow needle, but to continuously monitor a host of outside forces, any one of which could lead to more uncertainty and instability.

Certainly, there are important, complex challenges for Egypt and the international community in the days ahead.

But from a communications standpoint, Obama's challenge has been clear. Not only must he avoid escalating the situation – as even the best intentioned of leaders very often do – but he must strike the right balance between letting events unfold and demonstrating that his administration is properly engaged.

As he has done, Obama must effectively utilize his available resources in a two-level game played for both domestic and international audiences. At home, both publicly and privately, his team must maintain everyone's focus and trust by keeping the key stakeholders informed while limiting instances of leaks or renegade messaging.

Abroad, the president must continue to employ various diplomatic channels designed to de-escalate the unrest in Egypt and assure the international community.

Above all, the president must demonstrate that even those communications crises that are impossible to manage don't have to become ones that are unmanageable.

Jackson Dunn is MD and practice leader of public affairs for the Americas at FD. 

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