Laura Tallett 12 April 2017

It’s once again interesting times for the world of communications, as we sit back and witness both leaders and businesses failing in the face of public scrutiny with their words, actions and even apologies.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer triggered an uproar on Tuesday by saying in his daily press briefing that Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons.

These comments, which demonstrated clear ignorance of the murder of millions of Jews and others during the Holocaust, demonstrates the challenges we have with leadership of a modern world that’s complex and subject to unprecedented levels of scrutiny.

Yes, he did apologise after his comments drew immediate criticism on social media, but basic mistakes such as this simply should not be made in the first place, particularly by people in positions of power and public leadership.

United Airlines CEO, ironically named communicator of the year last month by PR Week, also issued a poorly executed excuse for a statement when a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight this week.

It’s sad to say, but this demonstrates public leadership at its worst and a lack of the thought or transparency required when dealing with a crisis that affects the wider public. 

While a business’ or institution’s reputation can be damaged overnight due to incidents like these, a clear apology would have helped to manage the crisis and begin some form of damage limitation for the brand at stake – be it a business, or the Trump administration and Republican party.

It’s common, basic practice in business and consumer relations that the customer is both right and key to your business success. We live in a citizen-centric world in which the public have the power – this was clearly shown by the political earthquakes of Trump and Brexit over the last year.

Crisis communications isn’t rocket science. The key thing is to understand the facts and then to be honest and transparent – this basic rule applies to all.

In today’s fast-paced world, focused as it is on purpose and citizenship, with all businesses, governing bodies, leaders and institutions being held to account by the public, you need to think carefully, gather the facts, and communicate transparently. 

The events of this week highlight that many still have a lot to learn.