Crisis Communications: Preparing your holding statement

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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?

crisis-communications-questions

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

READ: How to identify the stakeholders you must engage in a crisis (outside of the media)

Your template should look something like this

 

 

Company X responds to ____________

Date: DD/MM/YYYY

Time: HH:MM

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

Date: 31/05/2016

Time: 09:05

Harrington & Harrington regrets to confirm that in the early hours hours of this morning, a data protection took place when one of our servers was hacked. 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:

  • Control
  • Credibility
  • Compassion

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.

Our fully customizable Emergency Response Communications Protocol is an easy to follow procedure that covers all bases for dealing with a crisis, and we’re making it available here for $99.

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About Wilde Words 46 Articles
With more than a decade of international experience in journalism, communications and media relations, I add value to organisations by creating exceptional content for a range of internal and external channels, and managing brand reputation through establishing best-practice crisis communications protocols.

20 Comments on Crisis Communications: Preparing your holding statement

  1. Being worked in corporate office we do not get to know much of behind the scene information. We are sure this information or atleast partly will help guide us in some way in future. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I think it’s really awesome you are doing this. In college, I get similar information. I hope some public relation companies actually see this and take notes.

  3. This reminds me of the PR classes I had in University. And I actually had to advice a customer once on how to deal with a crisis that he had when a motorcycle gang decided to stop at his restaurant and ruin Mother’s Day for his guests. It is indeed very important to react straight away, but most of the companies don’t have or can’t afford a PR to help them.

  4. I think authenticity is key. The public will know if you’re being honest. They may be angry for a while but you may be more easily forgiven if they remember your honesty about the whole thing.

  5. This was really useful. I have never given much thought to a holding statement though obviously we encounter them daily in the media. I’m now thinking of writing one for where I work. Hopefully nothing that drastic will ever need to be addressed but you have highlighted the importance of being prepared.

  6. This is really helpful for me since I will be attending college in the fall and one of my majors is marketing which involves making statements for products. Thanks for this information

  7. Thanks for providing a detailed guide, I know in the past when I needed help writing specific reports,I didn’t find the instructions clear or the templates weren’t very good. Great work

  8. You should also prepare a Tweet and have it cleared at the same time! Here in the UK we always train clients to use the CAP formula. This stands for Concern, Action and Perspective. I believe Concern in some form should be expressed at the beginning of any statement- in broadcast terms it is less likely to be edited out.

  9. I work in the gold mine under the corporate affairs office, and crisis in the mine are so common in spite of strong safety measures put in place. I find the piece enormously useful and refreshing.

  10. This is useful – thanks. Looking back over various issues I’ve handled, I’d have to say they’ve come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, and this template wouldn’t always have fit, but I think it’s a good tool and a useful lesson and I look forward to reading your other posts!

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