Important elements of holding statements in crisis PR

While the primary objective of PR is to boost your company’s reputation, that is not its sole purpose. As well as creating buzz around your brand, PR is also crucial for damage control. No company wants to find themselves under fire, but no one is immune to a potential crisis. Generally, how you react to negative situations is equally as important as how you celebrate your success.

These days, robust disaster response is more critical than ever. Before, only traditional media and word-of-mouth spread news. Now, the internet can turn news ‘viral,’ disseminating it globally within a matter of minutes. Furthermore, brands today face new risks. Modern dangers that companies face include fake news, hacking, defamatory rumours, and cyberattacks.

So, what steps can a company take to limit the repercussions of a company crisis? One highly effective method of damage control is to release a holding statement to the press.

What is a holding statement?

A holding statement is an organisation’s initial response to a crisis or incident. It includes the basic facts of the situation and lets people know that you’re reacting swiftly. You may not have all the details yet, but a holding statement buys you time to prepare. Additionally, it helps to prevent rumours and speculation from spreading.

While it may be tempting to offer no comment, doing so can negatively affect public opinion. For many, withholding information is seen as an admission of guilt. To give you control over the narrative surrounding the situation, a holding statement must be released rapidly. Speed is more critical than ever, considering the rate at which news travels these days. 

A delayed response can harm your business in a number of ways. Firstly, an organisation can appear inept, or in some cases, criminally negligent. Additionally, stakeholders will feel like they’re being kept in the dark. This may lead them to become confused or angry about what’s happening. Also, a delayed response will dramatically extend the time it takes to resolve the issue entirely. Ultimately, the reputational and financial repercussions will be far worse.

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In what scenarios might you need to release a holding statement?

A common mistake that organisations make is misidentifying a crisis. Sometimes you’ll receive a negative review from a customer. You may even find yourself the butt of a joke post or meme on social media. While you might feel offended, these don’t constitute a crisis. In fact, an overreaction to these events may actually damage your reputation more than saying nothing at all. When assessing a situation, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will our brand reputation be tarnished in the eyes of customers, prospects, stakeholders, or our industry?
  • Will this event severely impact our workflow?
  • Is the board of directors going to panic?
  • Will this event impact our bottom line?

Answering yes to one or two of these questions might not constitute a crisis. However, if the answer to all of these is yes, you may have one on your hands. There are a few common instances that could result in a PR nightmare. Should you have to issue a product recall due to unsafe or faulty products, you’ll need to get ahead of the game. Evidence of workplace harassment, such as discrimination, is also cause to react.

How to write an effective holding statement

A holding statement needs to give the public the key facts about the developing events. While it may be tempting, never speculate, and stick to verifiable information. If your message turns out to be incorrect, you risk increasing the damage to your reputation. You need to let everyone know that you’re doing everything you can to mitigate the situation. You may not be able to provide exact details immediately, but you can follow up later. This may be a good opportunity to give previous examples of your competence. Compassion is also critical, so your message must be empathetic to those affected.

It’s a good idea to research previous instances of companies reacting to a crisis. What was their response to a potential PR disaster? One classic example came from Disney in 2016, following a horrific accident at one of their resorts. After an alligator killed a toddler in Orlando, CEO Bob Iger made the following statement:

“As a parent and a grandparent, my heart goes out to the Graves family during this time of devastating loss. My thoughts and prayers are with them, and I know everyone at Disney joins me in offering our deepest sympathies.”

Iger used the statement to demonstrate empathy while managing to avoid legally implicating Disney. 

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Once you are familiar with the compulsory elements of a holding statement, it’s time to create a basic template. You’ll need to adapt your response depending on the situation, but advanced preparation is key. Lastly, ensure those responsible for crisis response are well-versed in your strategy.

If you are curious to learn more about public relations or want to speak to a SYNC consultant about starting your brand’s PR journey, contact us at hello@syncpr.co

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