When public safety is threatened people seek reassurance in the simple answers, even though they may be the wrong ones. Organisations can use this to their advantage.
In the weeks following the Grenfell fire a particular type of cladding has been singled out as the cause.
Of course, the cause of the fire is not as simple as that. Cladding doesn’t just spontaneously combust. Other factors contributed to the fire spreading as quickly as it did – no sprinklers, fire breaks, incorrect installation of the cladding, not enough exits, and the controversial ‘stay-put’ policy.
We know this because various Fire Service officials said so, during and in the immediate hours after the disaster.
Complex explanations don’t help people feel safe. They’re after a guarantee which can only come from solving something much simpler. In this case, removing this type of cladding from buildings does the job.
This clamour for simplicity is natural. It’s easier to process and respond. The challenge for many organisations at the centre of public controversy is that the situation is rarely simple. They require explanation. That requires attention and energy from the audience.
There’s two PR responses;
- Focus on an easy problem and solution, even though it doesn’t cover everything. Satisfy the social pressure, which will leave you space to resolve the complexity in your own time. If you are a manufacturer of cladding, you could for example, focus on something like installation gaps and height restrictions, to explain how installation can choke a fire. This is the approach used by most PR advisers because it’s easiest, and plays to the basest factors.
- Educate. Teach people something new, with a formula they can use to understand the complexity. People can handle complex matters as long as they’re interested and are provided with tools to do it. A cladding manufacturer would, for example, explain a formula of fire dynamics that explains the necessary components to retard a fire