The Sin of Slow
I recently had a chance to sit down and chat with Doug Downs about "The Sin of Slow" and the "need for speed" when responding to a crisis. I was delighted that he invited me to be a guest for his popular podcast series "Stories and Strategies." We had a great chat about speed vs accuracy, issues vs crises, and many other topics of mutual interest. We also talked about the use of holding statements.
I often share with clients that you need to be responding within 15 minutes to an emerging crisis, 30 minutes maximum. Many think this is impossible - until they learn about the role of the holding statement.
Some colleagues "poo-poo" the idea of a holding statement because they feel they don't offer enough detail or any real information. Here is my thinking: A holding statement is an opportunity to take accountability for the crisis and buy you time to get some details together. But, you need to quickly follow up with those details once you know what's going on.
Gathering details takes time. Crises can break on social media without anyone in your organization knowing anything has happened.
Teams aren't always co-located, details at the beginning of an incident can be challenging to verify, and sometimes it takes more time than the public thinks is reasonable. In the meantime, you can post a holding statement.
The statement doesn't need to say anything more than "it's our incident or event, we are investigating, and we will share more details as soon as they are available. Oh, and come back to this space to learn more information." Having your holding statement legally approved in advance and ready to go in your phone as an image allows you to post it from anywhere, at any time. Once you have posted the holding statement, the real work begins.
Now you need to gather and verify details and post a follow-up as soon as humanly possible, and I recommend within the hour (which seems like a long time for your public audiences to wait for an update, but a short amount of time for those preparing it.) Your update doesn't need to say much more if you don't have many details, but even confirming what you're dealing with, and sharing public impacts offer a great start.
Remember, once you start communicating - DON'T STOP. Keep your updates flowing as soon as you have new information to share. If there are gaps between receiving new information, continue sharing what you have and date-stamp it so people know they have the latest information. Keep feeding the information beast until your emergency is finished.
So, although a holding statement doesn't tell your public audience many details of your incident, it does allow your organization to take accountability for the event, establish your organization as a credible source of information, allows you to own your narrative, and, most importantly, let's you be seen responding to the crisis without delay.
You can check out the podcast "Sin of Slow" by clicking on either of the following links:
Shawna Bruce is passionate about Risk and Crisis Communications, Emergency Public Information, and Public Engagement. She delivers crisis, PIO, and media training workshops in-person and virtually. For more information, please visit our website or connect with us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.