Accidents happen. Sometimes the results are minor; some accidents, such as train or plane wrecks, spills of chemicals or other substances or explosions can have drastic consequences. In the wake of any such serious incident, the public has a right to know what happened and what is going on to fix whatever happened.
A company's public relations department can provide the media with an initial holding statement that sets forth the basic facts about the incident and lets people know that you are dealing with the situation. The media holding statement must be carefully written in clear and concise language.
Appoint Someone to Draft the Media Holding Statement
Appoint a person to draft and/or deliver the holding statement to the media. Typically, businesses employ a public relations staff to handle these matters. Understand, however, that the media may need to hear from the actual decision-makers at the company, such as the owner or chief executive officer.
Express Concern and Empathy
Begin your media holding statement by expressing your concern for any victims and your empathy for the situation.
State the Basic Facts of the Incident
State the basic facts of the incident. Your media holding statement should answer the basic questions of what happened, who was involved, when it happened, where it happened and why it happened. Do not gloss over or ignore any of these points. If there are facts not ready to be shared, you can usually explain the reason for that; for instance, you want to notify the families of victims before releasing their names.
Likewise, you can decline to discuss the incident's cause in any detail until the results of the investigation are complete.
Cooperate with First Responders
In most cases of a serious accident or incident, companies don't operate on their own, but cooperate with first responders and other organizations, usually government-related. Mentioning those agencies and the type of involvement is important news, and also helps alleviate fears in general – most people are calmed by knowing that emergency response agencies are involved when emergencies occur.
Provide Time Line for Next Address to the Media
Provide a time line for when you will address the media again and how the media can contact the organization for more information. Explain if and when the company's leadership, such as the CEO, will be available to address questions and concerns.
Do not speculate or entertain speculation about what you do not know, and don't assign blame. In the fall of 2014, a patient infected with ebola was improperly released from a Dallas hospital. In its early statements, the hospital blamed its nurses for the release; when two nurses involved in the patient's care subsequently were themselves infected, the hospital suggested they'd breached protocol. The hospital retracted those accusations in the face of additional information suggesting the nurses had done nothing wrong, and that in fact the medical staff was responsible for the errors, but its reputation by then was severely tarnished.
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