Communications in the Middle East can be complex at the best of time given the region’s political, social and cultural diversity. Carefully curated strategies, created by communication professionals and approved by brand decision makers are key to ensuring the right message reaches the required audience at the right time.

The same approach applies when it comes to effective crisis communications in the Middle East. It is imperative that those charged with shaping crisis communications have an understanding of the region’s complexities, backed by solid foundations of preparation, planning and a comprehensive process \to address potential reputational threats.

In parallel, with media and social media sites operating differently with differing levels of influence depending on the political and social make-up per country, it is vitally important to understand the media landscape and which channels to use when in the event of a crisis.

Additionally, understanding target audiences and the type of information they expect to hear will help shape the right approach, with cohesive, core messaging tailored for each channel.

Crisis communications, more importantly effective communications, is still evolving in the region. There have undoubtedly been great strides made from certain organizations, institutions and governments in embracing crisis communications, yet there are still too many organizations overlooking the necessity to have plans in place for potential crises. 

Governments, companies, and organizations that embrace, or at the very least proactively consider crisis communications as a key element of their strategy will inevitably emerge from any risk management situation with a greater level of trust among stakeholders and the public.

As with all successes, effective crisis communications begins with the planning and a thorough assessment of potential risks, followed by careful categorisation of those risks to map out the appropriate level of response. Creation of crisis communications toolkits with the necessary training on dos and don’ts and an agreed process during any potential crisis will result in effective communications, and reputation intact.

If we use the UAE’s response to Covid-19 as an example, there is no doubt the government’s initiative-taking communications aided the country’s passage through, and recovery from, the pandemic. The planning was evidently in place, with regular media briefings featuring statistical updates, instructions and advice. Despite more than 200 nationalities calling the UAE home, the clarity and concise nature of messaging throughout helped reassure the public, counter rumors and suppress any panic. 

Response was timely and consistent allowing the authorities to control the information flow and, just as importantly, the narrative.

It goes without saying that not all crises are on the level of Covid-19, but lessons from the UAE’s approach to the pandemic can be adapted by organizations moving forward, and we are witnessing a shift. A decade or so ago, companies and governments at a local or regional level may well have adopted the ‘bury your head in the sand and hope it goes away,’ approach. Yet increasingly more are acknowledging the need to be open and prepared to manage reputational risk, be open to feedback and engage in dialogue. 

They understand their audiences want to be kept informed, so messaging must be relevant, true, and ethically and culturally sound.

Not every ‘crisis’ requires constant communication and too much information can cause confusion and inflate reputational damage. There is a fine line between ill-advised and effective communications.

Yet as more organizations and brands recognise the importance of having crisis communications plans in place, this will only help build trust and loyalty and keep reputation intact.