By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC
There is an old expression that says, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
In the world of crisis communications and crisis communications plans, that saying should sum up the concept of planning and preparing.
Why would you wait to decide what to do in a crisis, on the day of your crisis, when you can predetermine your actions through a crisis communications plan, as we discussed in yesterday’s blog.
Writing pre-written news releases falls into this same category.
Why would you waste time writing a news release in the midst of a breaking crisis, when 95% of your crisis news release can be written on a clear, sunny day?– Gerard Braud
If you want to be a crisis expert, examine what goes right in most crises and what goes wrong in most crises.
In the age of social media, one of the things that perpetually goes wrong is that eyewitnesses tell your story long before your official, well-informed account is ever told.
A perpetual pain, problem and predicament for public relations people is that since so many people fail to plan ahead, they wait until they are in the midst of a crisis before they write the first word of their crisis news release.
Imagine you have a fire and explosion. Imagine that people may be dead or injured. Imagine that there is a fire and evacuations are necessary. And imagine that in the midst of all of this chaos and anxiety, you have to open a new Word document and start writing a news release. Yes, imagine that you are staring at a blank computer screen and writing from scratch. That, my friends, is insane.
Furthermore, you’ll spend 30 minutes to an hour drafting your release. Then your crisis management team will spend 30 minutes to an hour marking up and making edits to your first draft… so that pisses away two hours. By the time you finish your second draft and the approval of your second draft, it will likely be 3 to 4 hours before your company releases their very first statement. Keep in mind that within the first 60 seconds of that explosion, eyewitnesses started posting pictures and video on social media. Some eyewitnesses may be broadcasting your crisis live on social media. You are insane if you are going to let 3 to 4 hours pass without an official news release.
At a minimum, your organization should have a First Critical Statement issued in one hour or less of your explosion. A First Critical Statement is a basic pre-written news release that can be edited and released in 5 to 10 minutes. If you don’t have one, download one free from my website. Use the coupon code CRISIS
Today, on a clear, sunny day, you can likely write 30 smart, well-worded sentences that could be used as your crisis news release for that explosion.
What might that look like?
It would include:
- How many are dead
- How many are injured
- How many are missing
- Are evacuations underway
- Where are people being evacuated to
- What corrective actions or responses is your company taking
- What should the community members do
- Which agencies are responding
- A clear statement that says it would be inappropriate to speculate on the cause until a full investigation is completed
- A sincere statement of empathy without it being a statement that inadvertently accepts any responsibility that would cause your lawyers to halt all communications
- A managed expectation of when things might return to normal
- Communications about contingencies for the community, customers, and employees
How to write the perfect crisis news release?
- Write it like a news story.
- Don’t bury the lead.
- Don’t make it self-centered and company facing.
- Write it like a speech, because you’ll want your spokesperson to read it to the media at a news conference.
- Write it for the spoken word and not for the written word. That means eliminate sentences with commas. Use short, staccato sentences. Never use compound sentences.
- Leave blanks in the document for facts that can only be added on the day of the crisis.
- Use multiple-choice lists when answers can have many variables.
- Make sure you have subject-verb agreement baked into every sentence.
Your goal should be to have one pre-written news release for EVERY item that you list in your Vulnerability Assessment that we talked about in Monday’s blog. My goal is to always have a minimum of 100 pre-written news releases in every crisis communications plan.
If you know the pain of a lengthy news release review by executives and lawyers, you should take comfort that a pre-written news release can be pre-approved. That means the language and sentence structure has been cleared and given the green light. The only thing that needs to happen before you release your statement is that you need to double-check the facts on the day of your crisis.
A pre-written news release is your best friend during a crisis.
Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”
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