Crises are unavoidable, so prepare yourself to manage them with a carefully-written official statement.
A crisis can happen in any industry. In our digital world, bad news spreads like wildfire, and the effects on your business can be just as damaging. Reactions are heightened in times of crisis, so what you say, and how you say it, matters just as much as any actions you take. A well-written official statement can help you weather the storm and protect your business from reputational harm. But writing a public statement is a balancing act between damage limitation and transparency, and it’s not always easy to find the right words.
So this month, we share our top tips for writing a professional, timely response to keep your stakeholders informed and reassured.
- Be honest
We can’t stress this point enough; honesty is always the best policy. Being truthful minimises any damage to your credibility. Trust is a precious commodity for any business, and repairing broken trust can be an impossible task. And while we’re on the subject, never try to hide information. Modern consumers are wise to corporate double-speak, and they’ll spot any attempts to bend the truth. If customers or the media discover any dishonesty, your business could face intense criticism and catastrophic reputational damage. If your firm is at fault, admit it, avoid blaming other parties, and emphasise your organisation’s commitment to openness and transparency.
- Empathise and reassure
Official statements rarely contain good news, but avoid using negative language. Negativity will create a divide between your company and your key stakeholders: the public, your customers, and your employees.
Empathetic writing helps limit negativity: include words like “we understand” and “we acknowledge” to show people that you understand their concerns. It’s tempting to try and strike a reassuring tone, but avoid phrases like “these things happen”. It sounds patronising, and what’s worse it gives the impression that you’re trying to minimise the impact of the problem. In the same vein, don’t make defensive remarks either, as they sound seriously unprofessional and can damage your credibility.
Lastly, if you’re working to resolve the problem, then say so. Nothing is more reassuring than knowing that action is being taken. Useful phrases to include are “working closely with affected parties”, “taking appropriate measures”, and “taking immediate action”.
- Discuss negatives in a wider context
You can use this tactic to discuss incidents with a lesser impact. Let’s take late deliveries as an example: if a small number of deliveries were late, your statement could emphasise that your organisation has completed hundreds of other deliveries on time. You could also try to isolate the event by stating that it’s extremely rare for your customers to experience problems with your customer services team. Try using words like “isolated event” and “very rare”, but avoid negatives like “another issue” and “frequent mistakes”.
- Use three key messages
These key messages will become the basis of your statement. The following example uses facts to inform stakeholders, distance the firm from the investigation, and reassure both staff and customers.
“This morning, West Mercia Police sent us an official statement informing us that a member of our board has been arrested on suspicion of fraud”.
Key message: we are not in charge of the investigation. Questions about the investigation should be directed to the police.
“Our company has agreed to cooperate fully with the official investigation to provide any and all information that can help to reveal the truth.”
Key message: we support the investigation and want the truth to be revealed.
“To protect our customers, shareholders and staff, the board member has been suspended with immediate effect, and his access rights to company files and systems have been removed.”
Key message: protecting our customers and our staff is our first priority, and we have taken immediate action to do this.
- Use verified information and don’t get defensive
It’s natural to want the full facts before you comment publicly on a situation, but sometimes that’s not an option. News and gossip spread like wildfire online, and sometimes it’s necessary to put out a holding statement while a situation is still unfolding. Don’t be tempted to speculate at this stage, it will only bring trouble later on if your information turns out to be wrong. Stick with official, verified facts. A simple, generic statement will let your stakeholders know that you’re aware of the situation and are addressing it, and that you’ll release more information when you have it.
“We understand that a few of our shipments failed to arrive yesterday. We are looking into the causes of this, and will keep you informed of our progress.”
Once you’ve investigated further and can answer the “w” questions – who, what, where, why, when – you can release a comprehensive statement to replace your holding statement.
“On Thursday, July 16th, we learned that several orders of face masks failed to arrive. We investigated and swiftly discovered the cause of the problem – the breakdown of a delivery truck operated by our haulage partners. The delayed items are undamaged, and will be delivered this week. We will contact all affected customers individually to arrange a convenient delivery time.”
Hopefully, you won’t need to write many official statements, but if you do, use this post as a guide. If you’re still struggling to find the right words, don’t panic. Wordsmiths offers editing and copywriting services for businesses, and we can help you craft the perfect response to any situation. Our team can take on assignments at short notice, so if you’ve got an urgent problem please get in touch. You can contact us through our social accounts at Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Alternatively, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or WhatsApp us at +44 7743 518681.