FocusGroup Consulting - Defining The Way You Communicate
FOCUS GROUP Frequently Asked Questions

What is Risk Communication?
"Risk communication is the interactive process of exchanging information and opinions among individuals, groups, and institutions involving multiple messages about the nature of risk and the institutional arrangements to manage the risk."-- The National Research Council, A division of the National Academies

Risk Communication is a scientific process for communicating about risk or complex scientific or technical information but it involves much more than just “simplifying” your messages.

Who is qualified to develop plans and programs ensuring successful risk or crisis communication?
In a high-risk emotionally charged environment, effective communication is critically important.  FOCUS GROUP has the technical and regulatory knowledge, extensive private sector and governmental agency experience, and creative ingenuity to address clients’ needs for strategic and risk communication on a wide variety of health, safety, environmental and organizational management issues.  Risk Communication is not Public Relations or Marketing Communications.  It is a scientific discipline that when applied properly can help organizations achieve their communication goals.

Who needs to worry about Risk Communication?
Effective risk communication is important for any entity whose facilities, products, manufacturing or transportation activities or policies, or oversight activities impacts or are perceived to affect the public domain.  This includes: governmental agencies; chemical, petrochemical, defense, pharmaceutical and technology industries; and those concerned with detecting and preventing chemical, biological, or nuclear threats or protecting public health and the environment.

What happens if we don’t develop and maintain risk communication plans?
Investing in relationships with key stakeholders affords the public and other key stakeholders a deeper understanding of complex issues.  Advancing that understanding is one facet of effective communication.  Proactive communication also defuses tense, high-stakes situations and helps to resolve conflict.

Risk Communication enables non-technical audiences to better understand complex technical and/or highly charged emotional information.  In situations of potential low trust and/or high concern – effective communication is key.

What are the elements of success?
Planning and proactive communications are keys to success in routine and crisis communication.  Effective risk communication involves identifying and understanding your key stakeholders concerns, perceptions, values and information needs.  Establishing two-way communication between your company or agency and key stakeholders is an important element of success.  Understanding how to develop effective messages that meet the needs of your organizations and the intended stakeholder is no simple task.  We use proven strategies to develop and map effective messages. 

If I’m not in a crisis, why bother?
Don’t wait for a crisis to test your ability to communicate effectively with a broad range of interested parties. There is risk inherent in every aspect of life.  Some threats and crises emerge suddenly:  bioterrorism, industrial accidents, public health emergencies, a product failure or a natural disaster.  Research and empirical evidence shows that proper communication is critical to resolving crises and that communication must occur in a short window, 1-2 hours following a crisis!  Poor communications can turn a low-risk situation into a high-profile concern.  Experience and empirical evidence shows that effective responses alone won’t resolve a crisis it also requires strong communication.

Show me a success story.

Hazardous Waste Cleanup:  Facilitated negotiation results in successful Site Cleanup (Wellesley College)

Nuclear Decommissioning:  Stakeholder Involvement Strengthens Community Support for Decommissioning Effort (NASA Glenn)

Emergency Response Preparedness:  Starting from Scratch:  Implementing Crisis Communications Planning and Training (Confidential Governmental Agency and Commercial Client)

Public Health Preparedness- Pandemic Influenza: FOCUS GROUP has extensive experience in Public Health Preparedness Training

As a corporate or government spokesperson, how can I make sure the media gets and stays on my message?
An important part of many risk communication programs and every crisis communication, is a proactive media relations effort.  FOCUS GROUP has the expert staff to turn the challenge of news media coverage into an opportunity for effective and targeted messaging with expertise in print, radio and television.

Behind FOCUS GROUP’s media training lies the simple goal of transforming the challenge of the news interview or presentation to a group into an opportunity to impart the organization’s key messages to its primary stakeholders.  Our staff is among the nation’s best in giving clients the skills they need to effectively manage the media.  We use on-camera videotaped role-plays to enable participants to practice skills and build confidence.  Individual feedback, real life examples, and practical tools makes course participants rate FOCUS GROUP’s media training as “The best I’ve ever taken”.   Our media training is especially helpful for anticipating difficult or sensitive questions and developing key messages.  These skills are critical to prepare spokespersons for hostile interviewers or for complex news situations.  We also work on nonverbal communication skills to increase spokesperson credibility.

What are the benefits of Risk Communication for a company or government agency?

  • Builds community trust in a company, facility, or agency
  • Puts risk information into understandable formats
  • Enables the effective communication of uncertainty and helps to resolve “expert disagreement”
  • Reduces public concerns and address fears
  • Contributes to the resolution of conflict
  • Fosters positive community relations and
  • Builds a positive industry or agency reputation
  • Facilitates and strengthens Corporate Social Responsibility Programs

How do we engage with stakeholders?
 First, through a practical, research-driven process, FOCUS GROUP thoroughly investigates key technical and policy issues.  FOCUS GROUP then uses that research to help build partnerships with the public and other key stakeholder groups.  We create innovative outreach programs and tools that address stakeholder’s needs and respond to shared problems and concerns. 

Our community outreach programs help build positive relationships with key stakeholders.  These positive interactions can enhance the client’s reputation and preserve the client’s social “license to operate.”

FOCUS GROUP helps clients maintain ongoing communications with diverse stakeholder groups through a number of innovative channels that facilitate and encourage two-way exchange of information including the establishment of community or consumer advisory panels, open houses and public information sessions, partnerships to achieve goals be it environmental, philanthropic or innovative ways to bridge client-stakeholder needs and concerns.  Throughout our comprehensive outreach efforts, we ensure that clear, concise and visually appealing information is targeted to key stakeholders.

Our outreach programs serve as a foundation for effective risk communication thereby creating a reservoir of trust and credibility that can be drawn upon in times of controversy or crisis. 


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