Saying “I Don’t Know” Without Saying “I Don’t Know”

By Jamie Hooker

Ah, the art of strategic messaging. This is arguably the most important skill a public relations professional will use in a crisis. Ensuring your team is controlling the message and how it’s being portrayed by the public is crucial. The goal is to respond early to a crisis, even if you aren’t sure how you’re going to handle it yet (re: the title of this blog).

Like we’ve mentioned in our crisis blog series, acknowledging there’s a problem is step one. A simple, initial statement letting the public know the situation is being taken care of is sometimes enough. For example:

“We are aware of the problem, and we are doing everything in our power to fix it.”

How easy is that? Obviously, that statement would be Plan B after a more comprehensive statement, given we know more about the crisis and our plan. Nonetheless, having a skeleton statement that is easily modifiable will save you precious time during a crisis.

You should also be strategic with your social media messaging during a crisis – if the situation is big enough to address on social media, that is. In cases involving franchises, smaller, local crises may not need support of the corporate social account. Since you’re a PR genius, you’ll surely have someone monitoring social media during a crisis. Your social media monitor should always be ready to respond to mentions and comments about your client. Again, having a simple statement prepared ahead of time can be hugely helpful when responding to followers and fans. The goal is to be as transparent as possible to establish trust between you and your client’s customers. In other words, don’t be shady!

You’ll need to be strategic when tackling the media, as well. Expect your phone to be blowing up with calls from reporters if your name is on a press release or any other materials related to a crisis. Be sure to stick to the talking points and statements that have been approved by your client. If a reporter asks about something you aren’t sure about, tell them you are looking into it and will alert them when there are developments. Never say, “I don’t know about that.” This will come off as confused and disorganized. “No comment,” is a phrase that you should also avoid at all costs. You may as well say you’re guilty, because that’s exactly how it is most often interpreted by the media and the public.

Strategic messaging is a cornerstone of public relations. If you do this well, you’ll be a crisis-handling queen (or king).