A crisis communication press release is a written communication that defines a crisis the company and its stakeholders are facing and a concrete plan to mitigate its damage or serve those impacted. It helps to stop speculation around the crisis definition and company response by transparently communicating the facts and establishing a central source of information from the company. To write a press release, define your goals, audience, and response plan, then write a traditional press release while incorporating this information.
Why a Crisis Communication Press Release Is Important
When a crisis breaks out—whether a natural one or an internal scandal—lack of communication from the company means people naturally begin to speculate, coming up with their own theories of the current situation and predictions of the future. In doing so, they often enlarge a crisis through rumors and misinformation.
A crisis press release helps to stop the speculation (hopefully before it begins), build trust in your business as you lay out a concrete recovery or mitigation plan, stop investment decline due to speculation, and establish a central source of accurate information (with contact information within your release).
By assuring the public your company will continue to update as new information arises, the release also prevents future speculation or misinformation from third-party sources. Instead, people will primarily look to your company for the information they need.
How to Write a Crisis Press Release in 5 Steps
To write a crisis press release, first define your audience, the entire crisis, and your goals. Based on the information gathered, develop a concrete response to mitigate the crisis impact or to serve impacted stakeholders in the midst of it. Finally, write your press release; as you do, include key elements like your logo, company contact information, headline, initial and body paragraphs, release date, boilerplate, call to action, and multimedia.
Here are five steps to writing a crisis communication press release:
1. Define Your Audience
Many companies create a press release and target it to reach journalists. But, when you instead write a press release to reach your target journalist’s target audiences, you prove the value of the release to journalists as well. After all, journalists are more likely to run a story they know their audiences will value or a story that impacts their audiences.
So, your goal in writing a press release should be to ultimately reach people who are affected by the crisis, are looking to your company to solve it (in the case of a data breach, for example), or could use help from your company (in the case of a natural disaster, for example). Defining this target audience will help you speak directly to their needs, thereby ensuring more reads and engagement for the stories journalists run around your release.
To define such an audience, ask the following questions:
- Who is affected by this crisis? If your town experienced a natural disaster, those affected might be your community. If you experienced a data breach of employee information, your employees might be your primary audience. But, remember, your customers will also want to know how you plan to prevent this from happening to them. Think of not just the primary people affected, but those affected in more roundabout ways.
- What is their relationship with my business? You may have answered this earlier, but think this through thoroughly. An employee may be an investor and a customer, in addition to an employee. Their concerns about the crisis are likely to change depending on which hat they are wearing.
- Why do they want to hear from my company? This question should be answered by completing the following statement: “My audience wants to hear from my company about this crisis because…” Complete this answer by defining why your press release will be valuable to your audience.
2. Define the Crisis & Concerns Surrounding It
Defining your crisis may seem like a short exercise but, upon further investigation, it might become more extensive or complicated. Take some time to think about how to thoroughly define the entire crisis at hand. When possible, talk to those you have defined as your audience in step one. Your company’s team members and stakeholders will have diverse perspectives on exactly why what is happening is a crisis for them.
If you cannot yet speak about the crisis, think about how it may affect all your stakeholders by asking “What risk or concern does this crisis pose to my audience members?” Doing so can help you define the entire crisis from multiple perspectives—including their risks and concerns—to understand the full extent of what you must address in your press release.
For example, if your audience includes customers, employees, and investors, each group may view the crisis differently. Your human resources (HR) people may think a data breach of employee information is a crisis because it will keep people from feeling safe working for you. Meanwhile, your financial and IT teams may think the same situation is a crisis because they may be sued for allowing the information to be shared without authorization. Your customers or investors may have other reasons as to why your breach poses a risk or creates a concern for them.
3. Define Your Response
Now that you know what the crisis is and how it affects your audience, it’s time to write how you plan on responding to the crisis. Your job here is to answer what solutions can resolve the situation in such a way as to calm concerns and mitigate risks. Still, you must come up with a solution that you can realistically implement.
For example, if your town has experienced a natural disaster, you may not be able to rebuild the entire town, but you can raise funds to donate to relief efforts. Contribute to organizations that are restoring what was lost may not solve all problems (like loss of life), but can help solve those risks and concerns that are solvable. But don’t shy away from problems that are not solvable, either. In the case of loss of life, for example, while we can’t stop the grief, expressing empathy can mean comfort to a hurting community. Helping to fund counselors may also help.
To define your response, answer the following questions:
- Was your company at fault? If so, part of your response needs to be complete transparency and recognition of fault. People need to know you are taking responsibility. Not taking responsibility can make people feel uneasy about the future and angry at the company.
- What tone should your company use? The tone you use to respond to a crisis matters. If the crisis was your fault, a humble but competent tone is recommended. People need to know you are sorry but that you are able to enact solutions. On the other hand, a hopeful tone may be appropriate if the company has a philanthropic solution to announce.
- How can you realistically help those impacted? During a crisis, trust strengthens your relationship with your audience. But failed promises erode trust. As such, your stated solution to the crisis must be realistic and achievable. Look at your company’s resources (including those within your company and those your company has access to) to define what solution(s) you can realistically achieve.
- How can you reassure those impacted? Your response should include concrete and proactive steps your company can take to mitigate the damage and reassure your audience that this will not happen again (if the crisis was the company’s fault) or that hope is on its way (in the case of a natural or community disaster, for example).
4. Define Your Press Release Goals
When a crisis happens, stakeholders probably already know or will soon know, even without your press release. Instead of simply notifying them of its occurrence, think through both your audience and your response, and then set a goal for what you want them to do with the information in a way that will benefit your business. For example, your goals may be to shift negative public perceptions of your business or to persuade your audience to support your brand or response initiative.
The important thing is that your press release should help you reach your goal. To do so, follow our guide to create a S.M.A.R.T. goal. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is specific, measurable, attainable (with the resources you have access to), relevant to your business model and stakeholders, and time-based (has a set deadline). This makes sure that your goals are actually accomplishing what you need for your business.
To learn from other businesses creating effective press releases, read our article on best small business S.M.A.R.T. goal examples.
“I see many small businesses rush their crisis communication out there just to ‘get ahead of it.’ They may think their customers and partners are expecting a statement quicker than they actually are. More often than not, the extra time you spend preparing a measured response to a crisis, the more professional and effective it will be.”
— Joe Szynkowski, Senior Director of Franchisee Recruitment and Brand Management, NuVinAir Global
5. Write Your Press Release
Now that you defined your crisis, audience, response, and goals, use the information to write your press release. It should include a logo, release date, date and place stamp, contact information, a header and subheader (optional), a first and body paragraphs, quotes, links, a boilerplate, a final note or call to action (CTA), and multimedia. Your press release should be 300 to 500 words total.
As you write, convey three key concepts succinctly: a definition of the crisis from the perspective of your business and stakeholders, the concrete actions you will take to help in or resolve the crisis, and what you want readers to do with the news you provide. If the crisis was your company’s fault, remain transparent and humble. Do not include defensive statements and do not hide anything. In all crises, remain fact-based but reassuring and empathetic.
While all press releases should contain certain elements that don’t vary depending on the type of press release, other elements should be adapted to the type of press release you write. The elements that should remain standard (with no variation) in all releases include your logo, place stamp and date, end notation, multimedia, and boilerplate.
To learn how to write and format these elements and other elements in a standard fashion, read our guide on press release format. Other elements that are standard to all releases but should be adapted based on the type of press release include your release date, contact information, headline, first paragraph, body paragraphs, quotes, call to action, and multimedia.
Here are the key elements that should be adapted for a crisis release, with guidance on how to adapt them specifically to a crisis press release:
- Release date: This tells journalists when it is appropriate to publish the release. Use a release date on which your company will be fully prepared to respond to questions or reactions to your news.
- Contact information: Designate one person in the company as the primary contact for providing accurate and up-to-date information about a crisis (usually the company’s CEO). Provide that person’s contact information, including their full name, professional title, phone number, and email, at the top right-hand corner of your release.
- Headline: Your headline should very succinctly tell your readers why they should care. In a crisis, use your headline to concisely tell what your audience can expect from you during the crisis.
- First paragraph: Your first paragraph should summarize the who, what, when, why, and how of the crisis, then offer a brief summary of your company’s response. As you describe the crisis, consider all stakeholders and how the crisis may be defined from their perspective.
- Body paragraphs: In two to three paragraphs, discuss your plan to serve stakeholders affected by the crisis and, if your company is at fault, mitigate the damage and take corrective measures to ensure it never happens again. Don’t be defensive. Take responsibility, express genuine concern, and offer concrete, proactive solutions.
- Quotes: Quotes should come from the designated company person responsible for offering the most up-to-date and accurate crisis information. Quotes could address the company’s commitment to corrective measures or serving the public and why your company has chosen the response it has. Include a couple of quotes so journalists have choices.
- Final note and call to action: In your final note, in one to two sentences, inform readers how and where they can learn more and always up-to-date information as the story develops and you implement your response plan. You may direct readers to a website, for example, where they can receive updates. You may also invite journalists to contact your crisis communications person.
Once you have written your press release, you need to distribute it in a targeted fashion to ensure it reaches your target audience. To do so, read our step-by-step guide on how to send a press release.
Once you’ve distributed your press release, it is imperative you track its performance. Doing so can help you gauge the impact your release has. If you don’t experience the results you wish, your analytics reports can guide you on how to retarget for better traction. Read our guide on press release analytics to learn how.
3 Crisis Press Release Examples
A crisis can take many forms, from product recalls and data breaches to natural disasters, like the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the crisis at hand, companies would do well to provide transparent information and projections, a concrete plan to risk mitigation or recovery for all those impacted, and an empathetic tone that does not deflect fault (if the company was at fault). Historically, some companies have done a better job than others at communicating these messages.
Here are three crisis press release examples small businesses can learn from:
1. Shenandoah Telecommunications Response to COVID-19 Helps Diverse Stakeholders
Shenandoah Telecommunications offers a great example of how to handle a natural crisis press release. They address the crisis from multiple stakeholders’ perspectives, including parents, business owners, and employees who all have unique challenges when quarantining for COVID-19. They also offer a concrete plan to alleviate stakeholders’ risks and concerns by offering a service upgrade for free across the board. Finally, they reassure customers and employees who rely on them to care for their businesses and families by stating their commitment to uninterrupted service so stakeholders can continue to count on them.
2. Appco Pharma Recalls a Product Thought to Cause Cancer
Appco Pharma’s press release does an excellent job of defining the crisis—a cancer-causing ingredient at unsafe levels in their product. The company then directly speaks to those impacted (namely consumers) with their plan to voluntarily recall the product. The release goes on to answer questions consumers have about the recall, including how to identify recalled products (with multimedia), who they should contact with concerns if they have been adversely impacted by the harmful ingredient, and who they can contact with further questions.
While Appco Pharma does a great job of presenting information consumers will find valuable, the company could have done a better job offering reassurance and empathy to those impacted. A couple of quotes from the CEO of the company expressing a commitment to preventing similar future recalls and serving those impacted would have added a human element and built trust in the company.
3. Target Updates Stakeholders on Investigation of Data Breach
When Target realized a data breach involving the sensitive customer information of 7 million customers, they initiated a full-fledged investigation to learn the full impact. This helped them to define the crisis from all stakeholders’ perspectives so they could develop a plan to mitigate the crisis for all impacted. When Target’s investigative team learned that the damage to customers was greater than they initially thought, they issued a follow-up press release.
What Target did well in this press release was to accept full responsibility. The quote provided by the company’s CEO was apologetic and included no defensive information. After taking full responsibility, the company went on to delineate their path to rectifying the company’s error, including offering impacted customers one year of free credit monitoring.
In addition, the release goes on to tell investors about the company’s disappointing financial standing and their plan to recovery to mitigate investors’ risks. Finally, in areas where Target did not have answers, the release stated so outright with no promises until further information was known. This helped the company build trust with investors by helping them understand the company would not add filler information or false reassurances. In this way, if the company offered positive information in the future, investors would be inclined to believe the projections.
Top 3 Crisis Press Release Writing Services
Press release writing services should offer the ability to get a custom press release written by national professionals on a small business budget. Once your release is written, they should also offer editing services to ensure your complete satisfaction. The best services also add free services like a search engine optimization (SEO) audit, multiple drafts from which to choose, fast turnaround, and several communication options to make the process easy and the final product polished.
Here are the top three press release writing services for small businesses:
Send2Press: Best for Accredited PR Writing Services
Send2Press’ press release writing services start at $199 per release. When you sign up for their services, you are paired with an accredited PR professional, a working journalist, or a published author. Your writer will then write multiple drafts from which you can choose for your final piece. If you don’t need full writing services, you can opt for revision and rewriting services that range from $89 to $169 per press release. Visit Send2Press to get started.
eReleases: Best for Unlimited Revisions
eReleases press release writing services start at $300 per release, but their service doesn’t end until you are 100% satisfied. This means that you can resubmit your resume as many times as you need to for revisions. eReleases editors offer flexibility when collecting information for your press release. If you prefer, they pull information from your website and submitted notes. Or, you can schedule a phone call or chat over email to go over the details. Visit eReleases to learn more.
PR Distribution: Best for Bundled Press Release Distribution With SEO-audited Writing
With bundled plans starting at $168, PR Distribution offers plans that include both press release writing services and distribution. You also get a free SEO audit and unlimited revisions. You can even turn to them when needing a fast turnaround for writing and distribution services; you can expect your first draft in two to three business days. From there, they can distribute to local channels and search engines or top-tier national channels like ABC, CBS, and Fox. Get started with PR Distribution by visiting their website.
A crisis press release is a document companies send to target audiences (usually journalists) that offers company communication surrounding an internal or natural crisis. Companies issue a press release to offer accurate information to the public, reassure stakeholders, issue an apology (if necessary), and communicate a mitigation plan. To write a press release, begin with a planning phase by defining your audience, crisis, goals, and response plan. Then, use this information to write a traditional press release.
During a crisis, time is of the essence. If you need help quickly writing your crisis press release, consider eReleases. For $300, you can simply submit your notes and website for editor reference or collaborate with an editor over the phone, via chat, or through email to go over details in more depth. Visit eReleases to get started.