When the worst happens you need to be able to respond quickly.
And that time frame for responding is constantly changing – the latest thinking suggests organisations have just 15 minutes to respond to a crisis media management incident.
One of the keys to being able to meet this tight deadline is to have holding statements already prepared which can be quickly adapted to cover the incident you are experiencing.
An effective holding statement will buy an organisation some crucial time until it is able to get a better understanding of what has happened and issue something more detailed. It will also help prevent the spread of rumour and speculation.
But what exactly should a good holding statement include?
It’s crucial organisations 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 at the start of your holding statement and showing you understand the severity of what has happened will demonstrate compassion, concern, and humanity.
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 organisation 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, that you are reviewing procedures or that you are working with the relevant authorities.
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. This was a regular message put forward by Merlin Entertainment when managing the media following a serious crash on a rollercoaster at Alton Towers.
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.
In an ideal world, you would be able to provide all the basic information a journalist would be looking for.
What happened? Where did it happen? When did it happen? Who was involved? Why did it happen?
But 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, some effective holding statements 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.
There has been a serious incident on Exhibition Road, not far from the museum. We will share an update shortly.— Science Museum (@sciencemuseum) October 7, 2017
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.
Setting out in your holding statement when and where journalists can expect further information will reduce the number of incoming enquiries you will receive.
So let’s pull this together into an example holding statement, for instance, in response to a fire at a business.
“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 co-operating 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 2pm.”
A good holding statement will help you manage the initial media interest and concern from worried customers. Of course, a crisis can come in many different forms and you are unlikely to be able to predict in advance the exact scenario you will face. But in our experience, regular crisis communication training, based on realistic incidents, can help an organisation to identify its vulnerabilities and areas where it needs to develop holding statements.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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