Think before you speak: Crisis communication lessons from Pastor James Ng’ang’a

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Effective crisis communication is about saying the right messages to the right people at the right time. It is about seizing the initiative and taking control of the narrative, explaining what has gone wrong, how you feel about it and, crucially, what you are doing to make things better.

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For PR practitioners, this is easier said than done, considering that our role is always advisory. Many times, we end up playing the guitar to clients with muffed ears. We live in an era where media is constantly evolving; an era where conventional media is live and livid to digital migration.

You no longer need masts and extraordinary infrastructure to own and run a Television or Radio channel. While it took decades to have KBC, KTN, NTV and Citizen TV respectively, it has taken months to have Njata, Lolwe, 3stones, Utugi etc and every day, more are being launched.

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While media remains one of the most heterogeneous forms of communication during a crisis, sometimes, it becomes too costly to hit the media waves and pages before you engage your stakeholders through conventional crisis communication channels such as phone calls, meetings or town halls that are able to convey empathy, concern and two-way communication, which media cannot – not even Facebook and Twitter.

Recently, embattled Pastor James Ng’ang’a of Neno Evangelism Centre was
charged with death threats by Kiambu Principal Magistrate Justus Kituku
after Citizen TV’s Linus Kaikai complained about death threats by the controversial preacher.

In 2015 , the televangelist appeared on live TV to redeem his brand equity after he was arrested in connection with a fatal car crash whose case files have been shuffled like  bingo cards between the Executive and the Judiciary.

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Well, in both cases, the ‘man of God’ opted to bungee jump with a sisal rope.  You do not turn up for a live media interview , make responses allegations without a tailored message especially when dealing with a crisis. That is akin to committing suicide with a wet sisal rope, you won’t just die, but you will also endure the sisal induced skin aches before your untimely demise.

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Nonetheless, crises by their very nature, however, are unique, complex and fast-moving. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach or communications playbook for how to respond. Each crisis will require a communication strategy tailored to the particular incident or issue, and a bespoke tactical plan on how to engage with key audiences.

For this case, it appears the cart was placed before the horse, the legal team was most likely not involved or his communications team, and the church elder ended up throwing salvos at non-existent devils.

As we wait for the judge’s call on this case, we are keen to see if this will erode or build the brand equity of the religious leader. After all, religion remains the opium of the masses.

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