Mastering Crisis Communication: The Art of Holding Statements

In challenging times, clear communication is key. Risk Resiliency advocates for pre-approved Holding Statements as vital crisis tools. Through teamwork, defined processes, and ongoing refinement, organizations can ensure timely and authentic responses. A case study illustrates their effectiveness. By adopting these practices, businesses can manage crises confidently, safeguarding their reputation. If assistance is needed, Risk Resiliency stands ready to help.

Organizations face many potential crises that can disrupt operations and damage their reputation. During times of chaos, effective communication becomes vital, and Holding Statements emerges as a crucial tool in a company’s crisis communication strategy. Risk Resiliency believes that crafting concise pre-approved messages requires strategic pre-planning, collaboration across various organizational functions, and constant reassessment of the constantly evolving risks to your organization to identify opportunities to develop new Holding Statements.

At Risk Resiliency, we believe that the value of putting time and effort into pre-approved Holding Statements far outweighs the consequences of failure if, during a crisis, you need to “edit what we used last time” and get that message approved. Often, approval for the message content comes ad hoc through the legal team, and during a crisis, that is often a single employee who may or may not get the message to review and approve. We recently saw a case where the legal representative was on holiday at the beach and did not see the message, which delayed sending by 48 hours.

Let us explore the critical steps in developing and implementing Holding Statements that will provide the much-needed time to ensure a comprehensive message based on known facts and response actions that can be crafted and disseminated as a follow-up to your pre-approved Holding Statement.

Establishment of a Stakeholder Workgroup:

The foundation of effective Holding Statements lies in assembling a diverse team of stakeholders who have a direct role in developing, approving, sending, and even receiving messaging during a crisis. This group, comprising representatives from marketing, legal, executive leadership, security, and subject matter experts, brings a range of perspectives to the table that will allow for effective and efficient decision-making throughout the development process. Through collaborative brainstorming and discussion, the workgroup develops Holding Statements that are not only accurate but also resonate with the organization’s values and objectives. If you are unsure who should be on the stakeholder workgroup, past incident reports and incident messages/alerts sent during those incidents are a great place to start when developing your team. Once you have your team identified, developing a procedure is key to ensuring that the message development process and workgroup functions are consistent and repeatable.

Identification of an Approval Team and Process:

Having Holding Statements pre-approved and identifying who would approve those messages before and during a crisis is essential to ensure timely Holding Statement distribution. An approval team is typically comprised of employees in the leadership role, or who have a responsibility for regulatory compliance, or a legal authority to speak on behalf of the organization to pre-approved Holding Statements and play a critical role in maintaining consistency and credibility within the organization. Organizations can minimize delays and respond swiftly to emerging crises by delineating clear lines of authority. Similar to the steps used to identify who should be on the stakeholder workgroup, past incident reports and previous incident messages/alerts sent during those incidents are a great place to start when developing your approval team. 

Development of a Process Flow Document:

Clarity and efficiency are key components of success when communicating during a crisis. To ensure clarity and efficiency a meticulously crafted process flow document that outlines the sequence of steps involved should be developed. The process flow document should define the following:

  • What will be in the text of the various scenario-based pre-approved Holding Statements? How long will they be and what types of information should be included? How will the subject line of the message look and what types of information will it convey?
  • How will the message be sent, and under what conditions will the pre-approved Holding Statement transition into a more detailed crisis communication?
  • Who will be sending what messages to whom? Will a security operations center send the pre-approved Holding Statement, and then the CEO will send a follow-up email with more specific details about the incident?
  • When a Holding Statement should be sent. A pre-approved Service Level Agreement (SLA) should be established for all pre-approved Holding Statements and the time between the initial message and any follow-up crisis communications. The best way to establish appropriate SLAs is to use a risk and consequence-based assessment to ensure the timeliness of communications matches the severity of the incident.

The process flow document serves as a roadmap for the stakeholder workgroup team members, ensuring that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities when developing pre-approved Holding Statements and transitioning to crisis communications during the incident. 

Creation of a Threats and Statements Matrix:

Anticipating potential threats and tailoring responses accordingly is key to effective crisis communications. A comprehensive matrix, that lists threats, the corresponding pre-approved Holding Statements, the preferred communication channel(s), and media formats provide teams with a responsibility to provide crisis communications during an incident with a structured approach to appropriately respond. Organizations can enhance the relevance and impact of their initial communication efforts by aligning statements with specific scenarios and audience preferences.

Establishment of Storage Protocols:

Centralized storage ensures accessibility and consistency in Holding Statement management. Whether maintained in an online repository or a physical filing system, easy access to approved statements facilitates a prompt response to emerging crises. Regular updates and version control mechanisms further enhance the integrity and relevance of stored statements. The Storage protocols should be integrated into any Security Operations Center Processes and Crisis Management Planning efforts.

Integration with Training and Exercises:

Practice makes perfect, especially in crisis communication. Integrating holding statements into training exercises familiarizes team members with their use and builds confidence in their ability to respond effectively under pressure. By simulating real-world scenarios and soliciting participant feedback, organizations can refine their Holding Statements and strengthen their crisis preparedness efforts. It is critical that at any after action review, crisis communications and their performance during the incident are assessed, and any gaps or issues are mitigated as quickly as possible.

Integration of Lessons Learned:

Reflection is integral to continuous improvement. Following each crisis or exercise, organizations should conduct comprehensive debriefings to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for enhancement. Insights obtained from these post-mortems inform updates to Holding Statements, ensuring they remain adaptive and responsive to evolving threats and communication dynamics.

A large East Coast Utility had partnered with members from Risk Resiliency to develop pre-approved Holding Statements. It adopted a mass notification system to reach all employees, contractors, and visitors. During an active shooter incident that impacted their facilities, they were able to impact three separate response-related communications work streams.

1. Pre-approved Holding Statements that canceled all visitor appointments and access.

2. Informing field personnel not to return to the facility but rather take their work vehicles home for the remainder of the day.

3. Messaging all onsite staff and alerting them to run, hide, and fight.

Having pre-approved Holding Statements for the various stakeholders and an established process to send them saved critical minutes during the initial phases of the response and allowed the Incident Management Team to establish more initial incident information to provide accurate and detailed follow-up crisis communications as the incident unfolded.

Holding Statements serve as an indispensable tool in the crisis communication toolkit, enabling organizations to navigate challenging incidents with confidence and composure. By committing to collaboration, transparency, and continuous improvement, organizations can harness the power of pre-approved Holding Statements to protect their people, minimize impacts to their reputation, and preserve stakeholder trust in times of crisis. 

Unlock the power of proactive crisis communication with Risk Resiliency’s expertise! Our blog dives into the essential role of pre-approved holding statements in safeguarding your organization’s reputation and trust. Discover actionable insights, real-world case studies, and expert guidance to navigate crises confidently. If all of this seems overwhelming and your organization’s resources are limited, please feel free to contact Risk Resiliency, and our team of crisis communications experts can support you through the whole process.

Recommended Reading

The Crucial Role of Holding Statements

In today’s world, companies face an ever-present risk of encountering crises that can jeopardize their reputation and ability to operate. Whether it’s a cybersecurity breach, a natural disaster, or any . . .

Read More

The Power of Foresight in Crisis Management

Hindsight Isn’t All That If anything, the current crisis has taught us that hindsight is not as great as it is made out to be.  However, by now it should . . .

Read More

Utility Navy Yard Shooter Case Study

This case study was provided by Jonathan Reeves, who had a primary role in response on behalf of this public utility. Overview A large utility in Washington DC was adjacent . . .

Read More