By definition, a crisis situation for yourself, your company, or your client is going to be a high-pressure time. Most members of the public do not have experience in crisis communications and their greatest fear is picking up the phone and having to answer questions from an inquiring member of the media.
While you may quickly realize that you’re in over your head, there is at least one thing you can do to better position yourself, your company, or your client for those first questions when they inevitably come. That is to develop a holding statement.
A holding statement consists of the few brief sentences you give to the media when they first call immediately after the crisis has occurred. You may not have all the information you need about the crisis to provide a full statement, but you know you need to buy yourself some time as you gather information.
Your holding statement should provide a few snippets of basic information about the situation, let the public know that you’ve done what you can to stop doing harm and contributing to the crisis, and – most importantly – be human. You want to provide the public with reassurance about the situation and ensure them of your compassion, while letting them know of future action.
Your holding statement should convey to the public, “We’re on it.”
A holding statement should come as quickly as possible after the incident has occurred in order to control the narrative about the situation. If the media is calling, they are writing a story about the incident. The key to getting your point of view into that story is to equip the reporter with a holding statement as quickly as possible, while fighting the urge to say no comment and appearing guilty in the court of public opinion.
One examples of a good holding statement by an organization facing a crisis came from Disney CEO Bob Iger in 2016, the day after a young child was attacked and killed by an alligator at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando. Iger issued the following holding statement that showed compassion, without legally implicating his company:
“As a parent and a grandparent, my heart goes out to the Graves family during this time of devastating loss,” Iger said. “My thoughts and prayers are with them, and I know everyone at Disney joins me in offering our deepest sympathies.”
While your gut reaction to a media inquiry immediately after a crisis has occurred might be to dodge all questions by responding with “no comment,” the better choice is to provide a brief, compassionate holding statement that allows you to control the narrative without further implicating yourself, your company, or your client.