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. 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 that might present a risk to the reputation of your business.

Crisis communication examples

Here are some types of potential crises:

1. Technology

When a company’s technology crashes — such as when a server breaks or an error emerges in a software product.

2. Business

When a business exploits its customers to gain more profit or information.

3. Finance

When a business loses value in its assets and can’t afford to pay off expenses.

4. Weather

When severe weather or a natural disaster interrupts normal business functions.

5. Employee

When an internal stakeholder is involved in a scandal and it has repercussions for the business. Usually with senior staff.

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 communication statement, or holding statement. The holding statement 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 holding statement must be considered, not a knee-jerk reaction.

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

The crisis communications statement

Ask yourself – are you making a statement just because that’s what your crisis communication 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 as part of your crisis management.

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 communication statement.

And you will have channels at your disposal to do this. It could be through your website or social media channels, 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). Social media posts require a very different approach than a direct statement to a journalist.

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 that 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.

You don’t have to provide lots of information, a brief account will work.

What is the content of your crisis communication 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 that 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.

Give the incident basic details, and be prepared to give a fuller explanation as time goes on. Media attention could increase.

Consider what your key messages are and ensure they are used in your holding statement.

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.

They will often require more than just the official statement, especially if the incident has occurred on site and someone is receiving medical treatment.

Plan ahead for potential crisis scenarios

Before a crisis even occurs, it’s always good to plan out for all eventualities and how you could respond. You may have an excellent safety record now, but when a crisis breaks, then all of that will be forgotten.

Start by developing communication templates, an official statement with a factual headline and prep internal teams. They may need to respond quickly to your staff when a crisis arises.

Check the contact details for your key spokespeople as journalists will want to speak to someone quickly.

Develop official statements for the different potential scenarios from senior members of staff. Make sure they’re happy with draft quotes that can be quickly adjusted in light of the crisis at hand.

Check the language used in the statement to ensure you have the right tone. Phrases that you can use include:

Working tirelessly

shows you are working to solve the problem.

Difficult time

Acknowledging that this is a challenging moment right now and shows your human side.

Cooperating

Working with the right people and organisations to solve the issue.

Further updates

Show that you know people are interested in what is taking place and that you will continue to provide them with updates.

When it goes wrong

A tornado ripped through an Amazon warehouse in Illinois in December 2021. The building collapsed and killed six workers inside.

Shortly afterwards, it emerged that Amazon managers were forcing their staff to stay in the warehouse and work, despite the tornado warnings.

Amazon came under scrutiny for their health and safety, and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is looking into this and other incidents.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, took nearly 24 hours to respond. A huge amount of time in a PR crisis. His response was seen as insincere as he had been tweeting about Blue Origin all day. The workers’ deaths seemed unimportant to him.

PR crisis statement

Responding timely and sincerely is essential for any business.

When it goes right

You might remember back in 2018, KFC ran out of chicken. This was a crisis that no one saw coming. A chicken business running out of chicken.

There was a huge uproar as KFC’s loyal customers lashed out. The KFC marketing team responded quickly and with great content to keep customers on their side.

They got to tweeting and releasing funny videos apologising for what was going on.

And it worked. Customers were on their side as the business navigated its way through logistical challenges and came out the other side.

Some in the PR industry think that KFC’s community is stronger than ever as a result.

Protect your reputation with crisis management

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.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.