Crisis communications - where to start

A Crisis Communications Statement – where to start?

Crises are by their very nature unexpected. And you may not recognise the need for reputation management services until the time you need some reputation management for your business! Things will inevitably go wrong at some stage and escalate into an issue that needs to be managed by effective communications, so one tool you might need to mobilise in this situation is a crisis communications statement.

A crisis means something different to each organisation. Negative customer feedback, the actions of an employee, an incident on site, product failure, a cyber attack, financial or service delivery issues – there are so many events which might present a risk to the reputation of your business.

Managing a PR crisis

In an ideal world, your organisation will be prepared to manage its reputation, with a crisis communications plan or framework (the CIPR offers some excellent guidance here). This plan will outline your process, stakeholders, roles and responsibilities and even explore some of the scenarios you may face.

When an incident hits, there are a number of tactics you can deploy to help you manage the situation, to get your message out to the right audiences at the right time and in the most appropriate way.

One of these tools is a crisis communications statement, or holding statement. It is often the first stage of acknowledgement that there is an issue and the first step in communicating the who, what, where, why and when of your crisis.

Even if brief, a crisis communications statement must be considered, not a knee-jerk reaction.

Here are five questions to ask yourself when drafting your crisis communications statement.

The PR crisis statement

Ask yourself – are you making a statement just because that’s what your crisis communications plan suggests? Often it will be the right course of action, but what if it’s not? Consider the possibility that saying nothing might be the best thing to do.

What is your message?

Think about your message. What is it that you want the reader or viewer to understand from your statement and what is the best language to use to get that message across? It could be to reassure, to give critical information, to defend a position, to acknowledge an incident, to issue a warning, the list goes on…

This isn’t war and peace. You want to get straight to the point, so stick to a maximum of three messages in your statement.

Who are you speaking to? And through which channel?

The likelihood is that you will have a number of audiences or stakeholders that you need to communicate with via your crisis communications statement. And you will have channels at your disposal to do this. It could be through your website or social accounts, through the media or a third-party organisation.

Consider the audience and the channel when you write. This means thinking about whether the language you use will be easily understood, whether it is a personal or company channel and whether you are using text or video (or both).

When is the right time to act?

Timing is crucial. Issuing a statement shows you are aware of a situation and that you are taking steps to deal with it. It may be that you are reacting to an event which has occurred already, or it could be that you are pre-empting a problem.

Think about how the timing of your statement will affect the people receiving it.

What is the content of your statement?

The trick with a crisis communications statement is to say what you need to and keep it at that.

There can be a temptation to wax lyrical about your view, but a concise statement which gets your message across succinctly will be the most effective.

Your language is important. You don’t want to be misquoted or misrepresented. Think about how your statement will read if a journalist opts to use just part of it. Does each sentence work as a standalone?

Think about your tone. You may need to be brief, but be human.

Have you told your own people first?

Before you issue any public statement, think about your own employees. They are ultimately your advocates and may well find themselves in the firing line with questions from customers and stakeholders. Arm them with the information (and if needed, reassurance) that they need to understand and deal with the situation. Think about what impact it would have on staff morale to hear about your crisis or incident from a third party.

To find out more about how to write a crisis communications statement, or to talk about how we can help with crisis and issues management, please give us a call to speak to one of the team.

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