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Balancing the need for credibility and speed in a crisis
When a crisis breaks at your organisation, you have a maximum of 60 minutes to get a statement out to the media before you start losing credibility. That’s not a lot of time to get up to speed with the details of what’s happened, write a statement, and get it approved by the necessary stakeholders. A holding statement is a brief account of what the company knows and what actions it is taking in the face of the crisis at hand.
The only way to ensure your Public Relations team can act with both speed and credibility is to prepare a holding statement in advance, with blanks to fill in the details of the incident. No matter what type of crisis you’re facing, from a financial scandal to a high profile law suit, a natural disaster or industrial action, journalists will always want to know the same things: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? What next?
Knowing this, it’s possible to create a template that will work in almost all circumstances.
Your statement should include:
- A factual headline
- The date and time
- The location of the incident
- Basic details that have been confirmed
- Actions your organisation is taking that you are willing to make public
- An expression of compassion or empathy (if appropriate)
- Contact details OR details on further updates
Your statement should not include:
- Details that are unconfirmed or uncertain
- Any kind of speculation
- A response to unsubstantiated rumours
- The apportioning of blame
- Names of victims in case of death
Your template should look something like this
Company X responds to ____________
Company X can confirm that at __:__ (insert time) today at __________ (insert location) ____________________________ (details e.g. A fire broke out at our manufacturing premises/ Charges were filed against our CEO/ a bomb threat was called into our headquarters in Dublin).
__________________________________________ (what the company is doing about it e.g. An investigation is taking place (or will take place) into the cause of the fire/ The CEO has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation/ Our headquarters have been evacuated and all staff have been sent home pending a search of the building by the bomb squad.)
Company X would like to ___________________________(strenuously deny the allegations/ express our sincerest condolences to the victims) and assure the public that we are (taking this matter very seriously/ moving quickly to establish the details).
We have __________________ (established a task force/mobilised a response team/set up a call centre) and will provide further updates as soon as the information we receive can be verified.
Our next statement will be issued at __:__(four hours from now).
So, here’s how that might look in practice. This is just an example and any resemblance to real life incidents is purely coincidental. In this example, a senior executive at a major financial firm is responding to the revelation that the personal details of thousands of their members have been compromised.
Harrington & Harrington statement on data protection breach
Harrington & Harrington regrets to confirm that in the early hours of this morning, a data protection breach took place when one of our servers was attacked. An internal investigation has been launched, and we are cooperating fully with law enforcement agencies.
At this point it is too early to say exactly what information has been compromised, and a task force has been put in place to address this. We understand that this is causing huge concern for our customers, and a helpline has been activated for to answer customers’ questions at the number below. As a precautionary measure, we are advising all customers who use our online portal to change their passwords.
Our next statement will be issued our website at 13:00, or as soon as the information we receive can be verified.
Helpline: 0800 456 789
What makes this the right message?
The statement above ticks all the boxes – it tells the media and customers what the company knows at this point and what it doesn’t know, what actions they are taking and how customers can get in touch if they need to. It shows that they understand the concern their customers must be feeling, and what precautionary measures they can take.
Later, when the company knows more – like which customers have been effected and what information has been compromised, they can create a comprehensive contingency plan.
For now – in those first 60 minutes – the most important thing is to issue a message that demonstrates the three Cs:
Our next Crisis Communications post will outline more steps you can take in ‘peace time’ (when there is no crisis) to prepare for when a crisis does break. For now, if you work in Communications or PR, try this challenge:
Write out the three most likely crisis scenarios likely to break out at your organisation. What would a holding statement look like for those scenarios?
Was this post useful? Does your company have a prepared holding statement ready for
if when a crisis breaks?
If your company doesn’t have any kind of plan for coping with a communications crisis, you’re at risk of damaged reputation, decreased brand equity and revenue loss. Companies pay PR agencies THOUSANDS of dollars to prepare for such events.