I am amazed at some of the discussions about communication strategy–even among top communicators at top level corporations and organizations. One question frequently is do we prepare a holding statement or do we issue a release? In other words, do we wait for the media to come to us to ask us questions or do we go public with our information anticipating media interest.
It certainly is a valid question when there is really no way for the media to be alerted to a situation. Even then, there are concerns about taking the reactive approach simply because being proactive sends such a powerful message of trust and transparency. However, I understand the reluctance. No one wants to be seen as seeking out negative coverage. But, what confounds me is when the event is highly visible and active media interest is all but assured because of what is physically visible to them. Still, there are those–most I would say–who deem it wiser to prepare a holding statement than a release.
A couple of comments and approaches. There is a difference between widespread distribution of a press release and posting the information publicly. In any situation of highly visible activity that is very certain to stimulate media interest it is almost always best in my mind to publicly communicate the information. The best way is to post it on a public newsroom site. It is not necessarily best to proactively distribute it via email. But when a reporter calls, it is valuable to be able to say, oh yes, we posted complete information about this activity on our website two hours ago. That sends a powerful message. We are not hiding, we are not hoping you won’t notice or you have a busy newsday, we just treat this kind of information as normal communication with an interested public.
Related to this decision about going public or not, being proactive vs reactive, is the subject of how much to put in the holding statement. Those reticent types who want to use holding statements are also frequently of the mind to minimize the information. Don’t give them anything but the bare minimum. Just tell them how much we care about everybody and don’t give any facts. I think that is BS. Does that contribute to trust and confidence? Whenever possible I try to anticipate any and all questions that reporters may ask and have information available in advance to answer those. Whenever possible I try to put as much as I can in a Holding Statement for the same reason–built trust and confidence. But some things simply don’t belong there. And when probing reporters do ask the sticky questions, to be able to provide a detailed Q&A, FAQ or Fact Sheet that addresses all those plus probably others they haven’t thought of is pretty powerful. It’s also a great way to minimize reporter traffic in a crisis. After all, they want the information–all the information–they don’t necessarily want to talk to you. Giving it to them in dribs and drabs and minimizing it simply encourages reporters to dig deeper and deeper, but now with the strong sense that you are hiding things and therefore have things to hide. Blood on the water to a good reporter.