Could the answer be found in a simple equation?

A simple equation could be the solution to effective risk communication.

A survey by Insignia Communications together with the University of Wolverhampton was designed to shed new light on how spokespeople can communicate successfully with the public about health scares and other risks.

Members of the public were shown fifteen media interviews and speeches about swine flu and asked for their views on the effectiveness of each spokesperson, and the reasons why they drew these conclusions.

Based on the feedback, the research team developed two spokesperson “equations” which, they said, are likely to result in either greater reassurance or heightened anxiety among the public:

CS + WA – AA =


(where CS is Credible Spokesperson, WA is Worrying Analysis and AA is Actionable Advice)


CS + SA + PA + AA = Reassurance

(where CS is Credible Spokesperson, SA is Serious Appearance, PA is Personable Approach and AA is Actionable Advice)

Jonathan Hemus, director of Insignia Communications, a consultancy, said: “Given the impact that this communication has on the public, there’s a strong case for saying that people who are unable to match up to this set of criteria should not be put in front of the media during a major health scare. Perhaps they should follow the old adage: ‘If you don’t have anything useful to say, don’t say anything at all’”.

Sarah Williams, co-author of the report and Course Leader in Public Relations at the University of Wolverhampton added: "This research sheds new light on how people interpret important health messages and who they trust most to impart that information to them. We hope that its lessons are learned so that spokespeople can help to reduce unnecessary fears and confusion associated with a health scare like swine flu”.