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European University Institute - Florence School of Transnational Governance

Enhancing crisis communication for ESM staff: theory meets practice

In an effort to strengthen the crisis communication capabilities of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the Florence School of Transnational Governance (STG) organised a workshop on crisis communication theories and practices tailored specifically for the ESM.

06 May 2024 | Event - Partnership


On 22 April, the Florence STG of the European University Institute (EUI) organised a workshop aimed at equipping the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), an international financial institution established by the euro area Member States to aid countries in severe financial distress, with the essential skills to communicate effectively during times of crisis.

The workshop, part of a broader research and training project, attracted in Florence a cohort of 20 participants, including ESM representatives (experts in communications, strategy, and economic risk analysis), academics, policy strategists, a distinguished speechwriter, and esteemed EUI professors and representatives. Together, they delved into the latest research and case studies in crisis communication, spanning various organisations and geographical regions.

Recognising that crises invariably entail communication under immense pressure and uncertainty, the workshop emphasised that decisions regarding how and what to communicate are as consequential as the policies pursued.

As highlighted by Winni Johansen, Professor of Corporate Communications at Aarhus University, in her opening keynote on key crisis communication concepts, “We are constantly working with changes and crises: crisis management is the new normal”.

Given the recurrent crises facing both the European Union and global markets, it is imperative for the ESM to strengthen internal capabilities to navigate future crises. A crucial aspect of this preparedness is ensuring that the ESM develops appropriate crisis communications strategies and equips relevant staff to implement them effectively.

Juliana Dahl, Principal Speechwriter and Economic Spokesperson at the ESM, underscored this point, stating, “Communicating well is of profound significance for a crisis fund like the European Stability Mechanism. Our work is to the benefit of the citizens of the euro area. Crisis preparedness encompasses not only policy instruments but also appropriate communication strategies, before, during, and after a crisis.”


The workshop

To develop truly effective crisis communication strategies and practices, a mutually enriching exchange between policymaking institutions and academia is imperative. The course provided insights from eight distinguished speakers.

The workshop started with opening keynotes by Florence STG Acting Director George Papaconstantinou, who is also Dean of Executive Education at the European University Institute and former Minister of Finance of Greece; Winni Johansen, Professor of Corporate Communications at Aarhus University, and Stefaan De Rynck, current Head of the European Commission's Representation in Belgium, former EU Senior Advisor for the Brexit negotiations and EUI alumnus. They shared their extensive experiences navigating crises and teaching crisis communication.

Complementing these presentations, Tamara Srzentic illustrated how crises can serve as catalysts for government transformation, particularly in communications with citizens, drawing on her roles as Director in the Office of Digital Services at the California State Government, and as a Minister of Public Administration in Montenegro. Subsequently, Jakob de Haan, Professor of Political Economy at the University of Groningen, focused on central bank communication to expert and non-expert audiences, while Olga Stankova, Assistant to the Director of Communications at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), touched upon lessons learned from the global financial crisis and the role of communications in reducing stigma associated with seeking financial assistance. Paula Gori, Programme Coordinator of the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), talked about how to tackle disinformation in crisis communication.

The closing keynote featured Terry Szuplat, former Speechwriter to US President Barack Obama. By analysing and discussing crisis communication strategies and practices employed during the Obama administration, Szuplat offered actionable tips based on his firsthand and personal experience.


What’s next?

Within the framework of this project with the ESM, this workshop will be followed by the drafting of a handbook on crisis communications and an executive training course that will take place in Luxembourg in autumn 2024.

To learn more about the initiatives in the context of executive education at the Florence School of Transnational Governance, visit our website.

Last update: 06 May 2024

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