Enhancing the Roles of Public Relations Officer in the Government Sector During Crisis Communication

by Zayana Isa

The role of public relations (PR) in an organization is crucial especially in the event of crisis communication.  The advent of new media, especially the social media that has become a new platform as the source of information has made the role of public relations becomes tougher and more challenging. Public depends more on the social media rather than getting authentic information from the traditional media where the traditional media has also competent in using new media to attract the audiences. Nevertheless, in the event of crisis communication, the role of public relations officer in the government sector seems to be less important compared to the public relations practitioners in the corporate or private sector.

In the corporate company or private sector, the existence of Public Relations Officer (PRO) is vital and significance on their reputation and corporate image. As a calibre PRO, they are the spoke person representing their company in answering all issues, especially to the media. Without doing this, the reputation of their company will be jeopardised. Atkins et. al (2006) stress that an organisation’s reputation is the general estimation in which an organisation is held by the public and other observers, based on what is known or said about it and this is the reason why it is important for a company.

However, there are some sorts of bureaucracy and the stakeholders or higher management may seem to control the priority tasks that should be done by the PRO in the government sector. There are sometimes too many layers of orders and authorization (stakeholder) that needs to go through before a PRO can start doing their work and make an important decision for the agency.  It is a rare situation where we can see the PRO of any government sector go forward and become the spoke person compared to one in private sector.

In the event of crisis communication, the prompt action of communication between the stakeholders and public is required. Nevertheless, the action must be conducted ethically and morally. The PR practitioners need to be mindful and fully aware of personal, situational and relational factors in handling crisis communication, for the sake of wellbeing of the organization and publics involved.

The notion of crisis communication in future enhances the use of social media in responding to the crisis and it is relevant. In his study, Coombs (2013) posits that social media holds a high degree of interests because of the various ways in which it can intersect with crisis communication. Hence, the PRO plays major roles here in responding crisis communication through social media promptly.

Alzahrani (2016) suggested that there are three phases of roles of PRO during the crisis communication; pre-crisis phase, during crisis phase and post-crisis phase. These three phases are crucial for the PRO to verify in order to response to the crisis accordingly. Alzahrani (2016) also posits that contact is the basic of public relations in crisis management. The role of public relations in crisis management is not to understand only through the process of the contact, which represents the basis of the work of public relations (Achammara, 2008).

Irimies (2006) stressed that roles of public relations and communicator specialist is a strategic one, essential when talking about crisis communication, about the implementation of a communication plan whose ultimate goal is to overcome crisis situation and to restore the confidence in the image of culture and organization they represent. Hence, he posits that media communication; both internal and external ones are best conducted by the PR practitioners and communication specialists. In his context of research, it is proven that the PR practitioners are the best person to apply the skills of recompose, image rebuilding and reputation after the crisis.

An effective communication skill are essential in creating positive, renewing opportunities at these turning points during the crisis communication (French & Holder, 2012). Obviously, the one who are best known as having effective communication skills are the PR practitioners. Hence, the existence of PR practitioners in the communication management is vital.

The PR practitioners, especially from the government sector should prepare themselves with effective communication skills to face upcoming challenges in this new media era. As competent PR practitioners, they should come out with strategic crisis communication plan or crisis communication management, hence prompt action can be taken whenever crisis occurs. It is a compulsory for the PRO in any organization to be in the management team and this will help the PRO to be able to communicate well with the stakeholders and the public.

Overall, the roles of PR practitioners in the government sector is vital to maintain good image and reputation of the ministries/agencies they  are serving for. As an excellent PRO, he/she must always be prepared with the essential skills in public relations, especially the effective communication skills. Without this, the tasks as PRO in a government sector will always be blurred and they will left behind. To enhance the roles of PRO in the government, they must come forward and act like a real PR; effective and competent.

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