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The Initial Statement - Your First Impression

The Initial Statement - Your First Impression

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Published by Bob Roemer
The initial statement not only contains information about the situation, it also establishes your organization as a source of accurate, confirmed information.
The initial statement not only contains information about the situation, it also establishes your organization as a source of accurate, confirmed information.

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Published by: Bob Roemer on Apr 29, 2009
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05/11/2014

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The Initial StatementMaking a First Impressionby Bob Roemer
During the initial chaotic moments in any crisis people are scrambling for facts, trying todetermine precisely what is happening and what should be done about it.Media reports that seem to materialize immediately after the crisis is discovered -sometimes before you know about it - add to that pressure. Reporters are interviewingeyewitnesses, people affected by the crisis, first responders, public officials, experts -some self-proclaimed - and seemingly anyone else who might have an opinion about theevent or situation.As this real-time coverage progresses people important to the organization are beginningto form an opinion about its reputation based on what they see, hear and read in themedia. They are waiting to hear the organization's side of the story and longer they waitthe more they think things are worse than they seem. In order to inform thosestakeholders and help shape coverage of the crisis the organization must communicate
within one hour of learning about the situation.
That is accomplished by the
initial statement
. If you are responsible for communications or public relations, chances are the writing and dissemination of thatstatement will most likely land in your lap.The initial statement not only contains contain information about the situation itestablishes your organization as a source of accurate, confirmed information.During the early minutes of a crisis you will be pulled in several directions by peoplewanting your attention or counsel. However, you have no more important duty than to prepare and disseminate the initial statement within the first hour of the crisis.To help cope with that pressure, your crisis communications plan should contain anoutline, often called a "boilerplate", of an initial statement with suggestions about thetype of information to include and appropriate language to use in the statement.Its length will be determined by how much information you want to convey, but keep itunder two minutes because reporters are in a hurry to file their breaking news stories.Preparing the initial statement is one of the most difficult assignments for a writer  because a crisis generates more pressure and uncertainty than any other businesssituation.Here are some tips for preparing the initial statement:
What to say
 
Only include
confirmed information.
 
What you are doing to protect people, property and/or the environment
What you are doing to correct the problem or situation
What you are doing to connect with the organization's stakeholdersYou must determine which of these suggestions are appropriate for the situation you arefacing. Communicate what's happening and what actions you are taking to respond to thecrisis.
What not to say
Don't speculate or guess
Don't minimize the situation
Don't discuss cause, liability or other legal matters
Don't release names of the injured or fatalities until their families are notified
Don't attempt to "spin" the coverage by mentioning your excellent safety recordor other positive achievements
Don't use technical terminology; if you must, include an explanation
Don't use business buzzwords and phrases such as "moving forward" "world-class policies and procedures" or "strategic business partner"Most reporters understand you don't have many details at this early stage.
Appoint a spokesperson(s)
The initial statement can be given by any member of the organization. Rank or title is notimportant at this point; providing confirmed facts and information is. Depending on thesituation, you may need to point more than one spokesperson.One caveat: spokespeople must have intended media training. Participating in a mediainterview about a crisis requires some confidence-building training.
Releasing the statement
To give the initial statement the widest possible exposure send it to press releasedistribution services, place it on your organization's home page and, if appropriate, provide it in written form to reporters on the scene. These communication platformsmust be prepared and/or arranged and tested well in advance of a crisis. And they must be included in the crisis communications plan.
When the Balloon Goes Up
contains a sample plan, an initial statement boilerplate andfurther information about the initial statement.

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