Crucial parts of holding statements in crisis PR

When responding to a crisis, you might have to offer updates or bulletins without knowing all the facts. Here’s how to craft these essential—yet terse—missives.

Editor’s note: This article is a re-run as part of our countdown of top stories from the past year.

When disaster strikes, you have to respond quickly.

The time frame for responding is constantly changingthe latest thinking suggests organizations have just 15 minutes to respond.

One key to doing so is to prepare holding statements that can be quickly adapted to cover the current crisis.

An effective holding statement will buy an organization crucial time until it can better understand what has happened and issue something more detailed. It will also help prevent the spread of rumor and speculation.

Here are six crucial parts of an effective holding statement:

1. Empathy

It’s imperative that organizations show concern and sympathy for those who have been affected in a crisis incident, whether that is people who have been physically injured or customers unable to access their accounts because of a computer glitch.

Putting those people first and showing you understand the severity of what has happened will demonstrate compassion, concern and humanity.

2. Action

You need to show customers that you are taking steps to rectify the situation and ensure that something similar cannot happen again. Even in the initial stages, it is important to outline what your organization is doing to deal with the crisis. This could be as simple as stating that you have launched an investigation to determine what has happened, or that you are reviewing procedures and working with the relevant authorities.

3. Reassurance

Try to put the incident into context and show that it is isolated (if it is). If the crisis has been triggered by an accident, highlight the safety protocols you have in place and your previously good record.

4. Examples

Use examples to support the message you want to get across. Look to include examples of the steps that have been taken in response to the incident, examples of the company’s previously good safety record and examples of how the company is taking good care of victims.

5. Details

In an ideal world, you would be able to provide all the basic information a journalist would want to know.

What happened? Where did it happen? When did it happen? Who was involved? Why did it happen?

In reality, you are unlikely to have all of this information, particularly in the very early stages of a crisis media management incident. The good news is that journalists will not expect you to be able to go into any great detail at the start of an incident.

While it will be beneficial to include as much information as you can, an effective holding statement can just acknowledge that something has gone wrong.

This tweet from the Science Museum is a great example of quickly acknowledging there has been a significant issue while details are still being gathered:

6. Update

Holding statements can only hold for so long and if you do not give an update soon afterwards you can expect to be inundated with calls, emails and social media posts from frustrated journalists.

Being explicit in your holding statement about when and where journalists can expect further information will reduce the number of incoming inquiries you will receive.

Here is an example of a holding statement that brings all these elements together:

“We are deeply saddened to confirm that two of our colleagues were injured in a fire at our office in Reading earlier this morning. They are both currently receiving medical treatment. We are in contact with their families and are doing everything we can to support them at this difficult time.

“As this has just happened, the cause of the incident is not yet known. However, an investigation has been launched and we are cooperating with the relevant authorities.

“This is the first time anything like this has happened in our 30-year history, and we have always prided ourselves on our excellent safety record. We will be reviewing our procedures and will put in place any recommendations from the authorities to ensure this does not happen again

“We aim to provide a further update about this incident on our website and social media channels at 2 p.m.”

What do you put in your crisis holding statements, PR Daily readers?

Adam Fisher is the content editor for Media First, a communications training firm in the U.K. A version of this article first appeared on the Media First blog.

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2 Responses to “Crucial parts of holding statements in crisis PR”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    Judge whether the journalist calling you about a disaster wants your “empathy” or your “reassurance” or your answer in “15 minutes” rather than FACTS preferably right now for the story.

    Fortunately, since we know well in advance that a disaster may happen, we can have all kinds of facts and pictures on our computer, cleared and ready to email, on:

    WHAT are some of the things (a long list) the company does for safety although no company has 100% safety.

    WHO (including professors of famous universities) is on the company’s Safety Review Board and if you don’t have one now would be a good time to arrange for one to meet annually.

    WHERE your head of engineering or whatever got his or her PhD and with what honors.

    HOW SOON (less than a minute) after this phone call you will be on the phone to top people to get a lot more facts pronto for the journalist.

    WHICH GREAT PR FIRM, which has offices and photographers all over, will be helping you gather information for the journalist and who will head the great PR firm’s team of veteran former journalists gathering information for the journalist calling.

    To avoid making your company sound insensitive, refer to a disaster not as “a serious incident” but as a tragedy which disaster is.

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