Monday, April 1, 2013

Writing the right statement in a crisis

I was recently asked to write a statement about a tragic public safety issue in our province. While I accomplished the task rather quickly, I started to think afterwards about the key elements that need to be reflected in such a writing assignment.

First, let's be clear that this is not an apology type of statement where an organization responds to an issue it has created or is responsible for. This is about showcasing your organization's human side.

So, what are the key elements of that statement? Well, they are:

  1. showing empathy/compassion
  2. relaying a sense of action
  3. presenting a positive outcome
This clearly follows one of the components of Dr. Vincent Covello's message mapping principles: Compassion + Competence + Optimism ... With a clear focus on empathy in the message delivery:

You can access the full video of Dr. Covello's to learn more about the message mapping technique. 

To really be effective, such a statement needs to be short and not feature any political or self-serving messaging ... it also needs to point the way to a brighter horizon/future. 

It's a hard balancing act ... Finding the right tone. Here's a great example of how to achieve this from the speech of Virginia Tech's Chancellor following the tragic mass shooting of a few years back: 

So here's a brief idea of how it can be done:
  1. we share your grief .... collective sorrow .... all of us ... our thoughts and prayers .... with the victims, their families
  2. our will is undeterred .... we will continue to fight XXXX, YYYY, ZZZZ  ... safer, more vibrant communities .... stronger ... positive alternatives .... 
  3. together we can achieve this .... brighter future for us all .... we can all unite in this effort ...
Yes, it might sound formulaic ... but that's because it works ... and when delivered by a trained crisis communications spokesperson .... they carry weight and have a great impact on your stakeholders/audiences.

Here's more info on crisis mapping and the use of social media ... from a presentation I did with my colleague Barry Radford.

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