When an incident or crisis occurs, the public has a right to know what happened and what steps are being taken to resolve the issue. Keep in mind, though, that there are better and worse ways to communicate during a crisis. Too often companies make the mistake of throwing together a holding statement only to further damage their credibility.
With everyone’s first instinct being to shoot video with their smartphones and immediately post to social media, the need to respond quickly during a crisis is apparent. For this reason alone, it’s important to have a crisis management plan in place that you can immediately activate in the event that something goes wrong.
The Holding Statement: Critical to Maintaining Credibility
One crucial, but often overlooked piece of any sound crisis management plan is the holding statement. Having this short statement on hand helps you avoid the dreaded “no comment” statement, which the public perceives as a disavowal of responsibility.
It also prevents the media from writing speculative stories about the organization and the situation. While you may not have the ability to control the crisis, you do have the ability to control the narrative. In other words, a skillfully written holding statement maintains credibility in the face of a crisis.
Crisis Communications is a Delicate Business
During a crisis, communications can have one of two effects: the statements released can mitigate the damage or make a bad situation worse. So, what can your organization do to ensure that your communications calm the storm instead of churning up more trouble?
1. Create Pre-Crisis Holding Statements
What holds true on the basketball court, holds true for crisis management—there is nothing worse than being caught flat-footed. Just as champions on the court run drills to prepare their defense for game day, champions in crisis management run drills to prepare their responses for an emergency.
But before you can prepare those responses, you need to have a good crisis management plan in place. Start by anticipating possible risks and vulnerabilities; then put together holding statements for each one. Remember to think broadly about the types of crises that might impact your company. This could be anything from safety issues to natural or manmade disasters to social media frenzies.
The good news here is that if you take the time to identify potential crises and think through the right statements ahead of time, while heads are cool, you set yourself up for saving your credibility should the worst happen.
2. Consider Distribution
Holding statements can be issued via traditional distribution methods, such as press conferences, but given the current pace of communications and multiplicity of channels, including social media, having multiple distribution methods makes sense.
This means that you actually need several variations of each holding statement you create. Create channel-appropriate statements for each of the following: traditional media distribution, social media video messaging, talking points for key spokespersons, social media posts, customer messages, website updates, and whatever other channels make sense for your organization.
3. Strike the Right Tone
Tone is very important. In the event of a crisis, you will want your holding statement to acknowledge that your company recognizes the need to cooperate with media and to inform the public without sounding authoritative.
If your communications team isn’t careful, the desire to show that you are in control of the situation can come off as arrogance or indifference to the injury that others are experiencing.
Holding Statement Keys: Simple, Informative, Timely
Once you have thought through your crisis strategy with an eye toward maintaining your credibility, keep a few more details in mind as you prepare your actual holding statements.
Keep It Simple: No speculation.
The holding statement is a confirmation of known facts, expression of awareness, and—depending on the situation—expression of appropriate and authentic empathy. Organizations are most often judged on the authenticity of their response in times of crisis.
A cold, legalese message during an emergency (particularly one with physical, financial, or environmental harms) can be a turn off and result in questions about credibility and brand promise.
Informative: Stick to the facts—Who, What, Where, When, How, Now What?
Talk about the actions your organization is taking and the priorities you will address. As with all communications, make sure that your holding statement aligns with key corporate values (e.g., prescription drug safety is our number one priority). Do NOT address rumors, speculation, or unconfirmed reports.
Make sure that key spokespeople are identified and that all inquires are routed through these people. If you skip this step, contradictory statements could end up adding to the chaos, which is the last thing you need. Collaborate with your legal team ahead of time (ideally as part of your crisis response planning), to have agreed upon language and an approval process in place.
Timely: As in, within an hour.
The initial response should be released within an hour of the occurrence of the issue or incident and should state, at a minimum, when the next update is anticipated. You can’t afford to let the rumor mill get ahead of your official statements, so make sure a clear chain of command is in place.
Time is your biggest enemy when it comes to dealing with a crisis. To be ready to spring into action, update your plan and role play scenarios with relevant team members at least twice each year.
At Audacia Strategies, we understand that dealing with a crisis is stressful. That’s why we have systems in place to guide you through. Let our team do what we do best so that you can get back to what you do best. Schedule your consultation and let’s get started.
Do you have your holding statements together?
Photo credit: dotshock / 123RF Stock Photo