Let’s face it. Not every public relations major will become a public relations practitioner after graduation. Not every student studying crisis communication aims to be a crisis manager one day. In our class, we have public relations majors, advertising majors, students in the public affairs communication certificate program, and students from other colleges or departments outside Grady College. Somehow, our students’ different academic pathways have intersected in our classroom and beyond, embarking together on a voyage to the vast ocean of managing issues, risks, conflicts, crises, and even disasters.
“Ocean” is by no means an exaggeration at all. Crisis communication has thrived as a profession and a research area for practical reasons. Individuals, organizations, and communities face challenges that constantly threaten public safety, human and environmental health, business continuity, and societal well beings. The overcoming of these complex issues takes collective efforts across disciplines and informed participation from everybody. One might wonder what professional communication brings to the table of solutions then. In my opinion, the essential role communicators play is to advise their organizations to be a compassionate facilitator and calm enabler in times of crisis, informing publics with timely and accurate information, supporting publics’ recovery efforts with compassion and action, protecting what is dear to publics’ hearts and minds, and continuing providing the right channel and proper narrative to help publics cope with stress even after a crisis event appears to be over. In essence, crisis communicators listen to the publics, value diverse voices, and always, always, tell the truth.
With such lofty and daunting aims, our students learn about what crisis communication is, practice how to prepare organizations for different crisis situations, and demonstrate the values of crisis management to their clients. No matter what they do, our students practice professionalism with mindfulness: mindfulness of change, mindfulness of business, mindfulness of media environment, mindfulness of culture, and mindfulness of vulnerabilities and resilience that co-define humanity.
In every crisis management plan they wrote, in every crisis case they analyze, in every statement they write, and in every argument they make, our students remind themselves several principles: stay calm despite the chaos, communicate clearly and concisely so that the correct message can cut through the badlands cluttered with misinformation, and accept the imperfection of life and stride up nevertheless with best efforts. Therefore, our students might proudly say that crisis communication not only broadens one’s educational horizon but also equips each learner with skills relevant to daily life regardless different career paths they will take after graduation.
When I teach and research about crisis communication, I think of what Joseph Campbell wrote very often: “Participate joyfully in the sorrows of the world. We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.” Perhaps, by studying crisis communication, we will never give up the joyful quest for cure, no matter what we do.