When an important event occurs traditional journalists immediately fly into action to be the first reporter to get the word out to the streets. They gather facts, capture compelling or informative images and deliver the package to appropriate media outlets for publishing. The need for speedy comment on breaking news is no different in today’s digital world, and if you don’t have a good plan in place to shape a story about your company you leave its reputation vulnerable to being defined by people on the outside, including your competition.
“I think one of the biggest faults in the past few years has been the concept of real-time marketing. To me, it’s like panic marketing or no-time marketing, where we just think reacting to things is our best method.”
—”Scott Stratten on Un-Marketing, Being Authentic and Going Viral,”
Public Relations Tactics, December 2016
With a myriad of communication channels offering ever expanding and more diverse delivery options, crisis communication can be a slippery slope, but don’t worry because your company’s blog is your best defense against rogue storylines.
Reuters, that dependable news icon, has come up with a series of story formats that takes readers on a journey through a breaking story from the moment an event occurs, until all the details have been captured. I’ve come up with a similar guide for company blogs, based on their “Drill for Breaking News.” Let’s start with language:
Reporting on a Crisis
Clarity is vital when reporting on a crisis; use simple nouns and active, present tense verbs, and no causal slang or jargon. Be careful not to release unverifiable details and refrain from using ambiguous or alarming word choices—you don’t want to foster an image of poor or manipulative language.
A news Alert is the first report of a bigger story and should published as soon as an incident occurs.
Craft a headline that will attract the right audience, using only the most important fact as a hook and giving only the known details in the body of the text. Your final sentence should inform readers that it is a breaking story and more information is yet to come. An Alert should run around 100 words.
A Brief is a more thorough explanation of what is happening at the moment, typically in bullet point format.
Use links to any additional information that sheds light on the situation, such as reputable newsies or official comments from key players at the scene (fire marshals, police, etc.) found on their websites. Stick with language that people outside the normal audience can easily digest and keep it fact based. Any Updates added to a Brief after the Brief has been published should be included above the original information with a line separating it from the rest of the text.
A Newsbreak puts the facts into context and begins shaping the story.
When writing a Newsbreak think of the questions a reporter would ask and include all the “who, what, where, when, and why” information you can report on at the time. Always source information you’ve gathered from other reputable information outlets and include links to the information you’ve referenced. While your publishing goal should be 15 minutes after the first Alert, accuracy is the most important part of a Newsbreak. Using quotes from knowledgable sources—a CEO or Project Manager—are great additions to reinforce your content’s information and underscore the validity of the facts presented. A Newsbreak is typically one to two paragraphs long.
Updates carry the breaking story forward with fresh developments, reactions, and added context and analysis.
Always include the word “UPDATE” in the tag and headline and attach it to the event’s most recent published Alert or NewsBreak. If a series of updates occur be sure to number them accordingly and add an Advisory Line under the headline to let readers know what has been updated (e.g. damage report specifics). Keep the word count to 200 words or less and publishing should happen as soon as you’ve been able to confirm the new information that is being reported.
Subsequent Updates are tidbits of pertinent information that is forthcoming as an event continues to unfold, acting as a fact gatherer on an emerging story.
Subsequent Updates provide the least available, but most important information and analysis. Don’t make a change to the original Update if it is not needed and retain factual material from earlier posts if you can. Keep Subsequent Updates brief, sticking to 100 words (approx.).
The Wrap-Up is the all-inclusive story, offering an broad snapshot of the overall event after a significant amount of the story or the beginning phase of the story has taken place.
This is where you get to fully flesh out the image you want for your company, so bring everything you’ve got to the table in your Wrap-Up—facts, quotes from key players, timelines, reactions, background information, context, and color. Start off with the hardest news and weave in significant developments from more than one dateline, source or update (with appropriate sourcing). Tailor the information to the image you’re creating for your company, provide only the essentials being reported, and speak with authority and just enough emotion to elicit the right response from the audience. The typical word count for a Wrap-Up is 800 words.
A Side Note
Blogs and social media can be very effective in crisis management, but their effectiveness is diminished without the involvement of executives that recognize the power of getting the word out effectively. I recommend writing up a crisis management plan that includes a slot(s) for their comments during each step of the guide, beginning after the initial Alert.