CERC @ Work: Know Your Audience

Stylized words,

Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication (CERC) principles should be considered in all crisis communication plans…but what do they look like in a real emergency? CERC @ Work offers a glimpse of how these principles are put into practice.

This edition of CERC @ Work features the experiences of Lisa Briseño, a CDC health communicator, as she traveled to Puerto Rico to respond to the local spread of Zika virus disease (Zika).

I’m headed to Puerto Rico. I have CERC training and experience. I speak Spanish. I’m Latina. I should be ready to communicate anything. And, yet, I know that the best thing for me to do when I arrive is to LISTEN.

Taking the time to listen, to watch, and to learn can be quite challenging when people look to you to have the answers–when they expect you to know what they should do. This is especially true during a public health emergency. So, how do we determine how much time to spend listening and who to listen to? What do we, as crisis and emergency risk communicators, do?

Unfortunately, the answer to how much time we should spend listening is complicated. During every phase of a response, gathering audience feedback is essential to know whether the right messages are reaching the people who need them. We have to balance that reality with the reality of limited resources. One way is to maximize the use of the tools we can access. Publicly available analysis tools for search engines, social media, and government data can provide insight to guide our decision-making. Partners often gather information and establish connections in fulfilling their missions. When we connect with them, we can share what we know to help information flow more freely.

We also need to carefully consider where to listen—and to whom. Of course, we want to get public health messages to as many people as we can, but there are those people who are just more difficult to reach. Seek out those who are less prone to asking for help or information. Find out who they trust for information. And listen to those trusted sources to find out whether the questions you’re answering are the same ones people are asking. Find out whether the public health recommendations are feasible for the many and the few.

But what do we do in the meantime, when people need us to communicate? What do we do while we’re building relationships, asking questions, and searching for data? If we are in the midst of a crisis, we have to use the best information we have on hand—we have to use what we do know. While we may not know which media Puerto Rican women prefer, we do have data on which media Latinas prefer. We also know how to reach pregnant women. And we know that reaching out only to the pregnant women will not be nearly as effective as reaching them AND those who care about them.

So, as we continue to listen to and work with the people living in or visiting Puerto Rico and  other areas affected by Zika, we learn more about how to protect those most vulnerable to Zika’s effects. We listen so we can do our part to save lives.

For more information on CERC visit our website and check out the CERC manual. You can also read previous CERC Corners.

Have you used CERC in your work? To share your CERC stories, e-mail cercrequest@cdc.gov. Your stories may appear in future CERC Corners.

Page last reviewed: March 23, 2017 (archived document)