Crisis Communication Ethos: Introduction
Defining organizational ethos in a crisis
In the midst of crises, it is critical that organizations present themselves as credible and trustworthy sources of information to the public. Effective communication thus relies heavily on ethos, defined by Aristotle as a speaker’s “character” (Kennedy, 1992, p. 28). Ethos is how an audience regards a speaker—whether the speaker is believable or a valid source of knowledge; in a crisis situation, ethos refers to the communicator’s credibility in the eyes of the public.
Organizational reputation and creating trust
An organization’s reputation is not created during the crisis situation itself, but emerges from a combination of existing reputation and current actions. Seeger (2006) writes that an audience’s established perception of an organization will be especially important during the crisis, because “Such credibility translates into believability and trust between the public and those seeking to manage the event” (pp. 8-9). Audiences dealing with disasters need to have confidence in communicators so they can make rational and educated decisions. Existing reputation, however, is only part of establishing a strong ethos in a crisis. As discussed in further sections, organizations also need:
• honest and frequent communication
• consistent and accurate messages
• delivery through credible media