Are Written Statements Enough In a Crisis?

Almost every time I conduct a crisis communications workshop, an executive asks whether it’s okay to release a written statement in the early hours of a crisis rather than speaking directly to reporters.

My answer is almost always no.

Here are three reasons I usually discourage clients from pursuing written statements as their primary media strategy:

1. They Don’t Make You the “Go-To” Source: One of the most important things in the early hours of a crisis is to establish your company or organization as the primary source for information. If reporters believe they can get the relevant facts of the story directly from you in a timely and transparent manner, they will have less incentive to seek out alternative sources.

2. They Make You Look Guilty: A written statement too often looks like the Fifth Amendment – an obstruction guilty parties hide behind when they want to avoid saying something self-incriminating. Sources that communicate openly are usually treated better by reporters than those who refuse to talk or speak only through the written word.

3. Reporters Hate Them: Reporters want the opportunity to ask questions, clarify points, and pursue their own angles. Sources that don’t speak to reporters often suffer more hostile coverage.  

Although I don’t usually recommend written statements as the sole media strategy, they can play a useful role.

You might consider releasing a short written statement to your media list, on your website, and through a wire service – in addition to speaking with reporters. Doing so can help you reach a wider audience, establish your company as a primary source for information, and demonstrate your commitment to transparent communication.

Written statements tend to work better for print and on-line publications, which often times just plug your exact quote into their stories. But keep in mind that written statements can be used against you in radio and television. That’s because broadcasters will likely interview a sympathetic crisis victim, followed by, “In a statement, Huge Corporation said….” That damning line can make you look evasive, despite the fact you’ve made an honest attempt to communicate.

Here’s the bottom line: In a crisis, you’re generally better served by relegating written statements to a supporting position, not the starring role.