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Two bandaids forming a cross shape. Tips for writing a crisis statement blog post

6 Top Tips for Writing a Crisis Statement

Wesley Mathew

May 18, 2024

Unfortunately, a pr crisis is something that can happen to any business. Sometimes it’s insignificant and doesn’t attract media attention, but that’s not to say that more serious crises do not develop frequently.

A crisis can take the form of a prominent employee scandal, a natural disaster, or even just a vicious rumour that catches the attention of the media. You can’t always avoid getting into hot water; the best thing you can do is prepare for possible consequences and eliminate sources of issues. For example, a CEO can create a dedicated team who constantly work on crisis monitoring and preventing dramatic events by planning out the different outcomes and their response situations.

Whatever the crisis, an official issued statement is something they all have in common. Stakeholders will be waiting for an explanation and some kind of update on the situation, and that’s where a holding statement distributed to stakeholders comes into action.

Remember these crisis statement tips in case the unthinkable happens to you:

1. Use Key Messages, Verified Information, and Don’t Get Defensive

The primary purpose of communications during a crisis is to inform about the 5Ws: “who, what, when, where, and why.” Use the 5Ws to guide the structure of your comms.

Sure, in many cases information is limited — that’s why you need to promise the audience that more information will be released as soon as you have it. Don’t make defensive remarks, as they can seriously ruin the credibility of your business, as can speaking prematurely before you know the full picture.

2. Define and Isolate the Actual Problem

No one expects a disaster, so when it strikes it’s very easy to become overwhelmed and distracted. As a result, you might miss important information related to the actual issue or problem at hand. For example, if a company is facing an employee scandal, you need to investigate and identify whether it was caused by an inappropriate organisational policy, sexual harassment, human error, or something else.

At this point, you might also consider consulting with a legal professional who can identify potential implications of certain phrasing or words.

Here’s an example:

I want to inform you about an incident that occurred yesterday that affected all employees of the marketing department. Inappropriate conduct from one of the marketing analysts undermined the safety of the staff, which is the first concern of the organisation. We take all occurences of this nature very seriously.

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3. Produce At Least Three Key Messages

Key messages will become the basis of the statement. Say you have limited details on an incident, you can build your  communication around the facts:

This afternoon, federal regulators have sent me an official statement notifying that the vice president of our company is suspected of insider trading.

This key message clearly shows that you weren’t notified in person, so you cannot possibly know all facts related to the event. All questions thus should be redirected to the federal regulatory body that initiated the investigation.

One key message, however, is not enough even when you don’t know everything. So, to add the message above, the following could be used:

Our company agrees to cooperate with the official investigation to provide all necessary information that could reveal the truth.

The third key message could be:

To ensure that the vice president cannot access any sensitive information related to the company, it was decided to restrict his access privileges as soon as possible.

4. Present Negatives in a Broad Context

This technique is often used by businesses to minimise the impact of the bad news. It can be used to describe an incident that did not have a profound impact on the organisation. For example, if an employee of a writing company that provides essay tips insulted a customer in some way, you can write that the company was able to deliver thousands of other people with good experiences.

You can also try to isolate the event by stating that it is very rare for your customers to experience problems while dealing with the customer service.

Words to use include in your crisis statement are: “isolated event” and “very rare.” Negative words to avoid are “another issue” and “frequent mistakes.”

5. Express Empathy and Take Action

It’s not wise to create a gap between the company and the public or employees by using negativity. A better idea is to express empathy and eliminate that gap, via a spokesperson.

The empathetic writing includes words like “we appreciate,” “we understand,” and “we acknowledge.”

A word of caution: don’t try to use “many people face similar issues” and “accidents like this happen.” If you want to emphasise that the organisation is addressing the problem, do it! If an employee is suspected of setting fire in a warehouse that belongs to the organisation, for example, don’t just state this fact but also inform that you are already working closely with local authorities to find out what happened.

Tip: Don’t jump to conclusions and admit that the organisation will be conducting an investigation. Words like these attract journalists in need of fresh news. It’s better to admit that your organisation is doing everything to resolve the concern and minimise the damage to the buisness.

Phrases to use in a statement include “taking appropriate measures,” “taking immediate action,” and “working closely with the authorities.”

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6. Be Honest

The last tip in this article is perhaps the most important one. Honesty is the best policy because it helps to avoid phrases that damage credibility and reputation. If your organisation is to blame for an incident, then admit it in the statement. Many people will immediately recognise lies if they see them there.

Also, never try to hide any information. If you do, this could be bad news for your organisation. If they find you you’ve been lying, get ready for some serious criticism. So, if you are at fault, admit it without blaming anyone else and say that your organisation is committed to being open and transparent.

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So, How Do You Know When to Respond and When Not To?

So how do you know if and when you should respond? Answering these questions is a good start.

  1. Has there been damage to your organization’s reputation? As Warren Buffet famously pointed out, it takes 20 years to build a reputation but five minutes to ruin it. It can also take years to repair a damaged reputation once it’s been tarnished. So if there’s been damage to your reputation, most crisis communications pros would counsel you to respond quickly, decisively, and transparently.
  2. Would a reasonable person expect a responsible organization to respond? In most crisis communications situations, the answer to that question is obviously, yes. So the question then becomes not should we respond, but how should we respond?
  3. Is public opinion about you being shaped by inaccurate statements or slanderous claims? If the answer is yes, it could be time to address that negative sentiment by clearly stating the facts.

Ultimately, the only way to know if you should respond or not is to listen. There are plenty of social media monitoring tools available to help you do this. Don’t let five minutes ruin what it took 20 years to build, and don’t let it take years to repair the damage to your brand once it happens. Knowing whether to respond or not is not always simple. But the answer will become much clearer if your first step is to listen.

Want to learn how Meltwater can help your company with crisis communications? Fill out the form below to schedule a demo.