Perspectives on crisis communication

3. The journalist’s perspective: from journalism to crisis communication 

About the author

Ann is a co-founder of PR Academy. Her special areas of interest are internal communication, change management and project communication. MSc, Dip CAM, MCIPR

Tari Trott
Tari Trott

Tari Trott joined the Government of Bermuda as a communication officer about two years ago, following a successful career in journalism. 

As part of his role, Tari manages communication for the Ministry of National Security which is responsible for managing the country’s response to natural emergencies and disasters, including hurricanes. 

What motivated you to do the CIPR crisis communication diploma? 

Coming out of the pandemic in 2020, I realised it was time for a career change and PR was something that interested me. I had always been fascinated by the psychology of communication and of course as a journalist I had been on the other side of crisis communication many times. 

As a journalist I had reported on hurricanes, including appearing on CBS News, and I saw what it took for organisations to communicate when there’s no power and a genuine risk of people dying. I witnessed people having to communicate under immense pressure when sometimes the only channel of communication is the emergency radio station.  

I saw the need to be nimble as a communicator and adapt to whatever channels you have available. You need to plan for how you’re going communicate when your usual channels are out of action. 

What sort of potential crises does your organisation face? 

Natural disasters such as hurricanes as mentioned of course.  

During a hurricane, Bermuda has an ad-hoc organisation called the Emergency Measures Organisation which is activated to deal with national emergencies and crises such as a hurricane. Its rather like a crisis management team that we learned about on the diploma. Working with this body has given me insight into the importance of being organised to handle a crisis scenario. 

But it isn’t just natural disasters. Something like an oil spill could have devastating consequences for our island which is so dependent on tourism.  While an incident such as that won’t have been generated by us, we’d be in the midst of it and need to work closely with many other agencies and companies.  

Did your perspective on crisis communication and issues management change after doing the crisis communication diploma course?  

Yes! The course makes you realise the complexities of a reputational crisis and the lesson is that organisations can’t wing it!  They must invest in preparedness.

As a former journalist I can see a crisis from multiple angles and that helps me to speak up about risk at the highest level in the organisation.

As a former journalist I can see a crisis from multiple angles and that helps me to speak up about risk at the highest level in the organisation. But also without the crisis diploma I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to do so. 

Importantly, the theory of crisis has given me a perspective on what is and isn’t crisis. An incident isn’t necessarily a crisis and understanding this enables me to analyse things and bring a more sober approach. 

What advice would you give to a practitioner who is trying to get their organisation to be prepared for a crisis?  

I think pointing out examples of organisations that faced a crisis and overcame it thanks to intelligent crisis planning and communication is helpful.  I would stress how strong a position the organisation would be in if it prepared rather than simply reacted.  

You went on to become a CIPR Chartered practitioner – what prompted that and how has it helped you? 

I believe that PR practitioners should operate at the highest international standards and I felt getting Chartered through the CIPR showed that I was committed to that and it gives me international recognition. And I wanted to stand out from the crowd! 

For me, being Chartered is more than about post-nominal letters, its like having a partner on your professional journey. 

It’s been another big boost in confidence and gives assurance to others I’m working with – they can breathe a sigh of relief that they’re receiving advice from someone who commits to the highest standards. 

How would you advise anyone who is planning their professional development journey?  

Consider doing the crisis or other diploma of course. But also, be curious.  Get a different perspective by reading and watching lots of news so that you can see the other side of a crisis. Ask lots of questions in your own organisation of those whose responsibility crisis planning is.  ]

Perspectives on crisis communication