Guest contributor: Jo Detavernier, SCMP, APR – VP and Partner with Swyft.

When a crisis hits, the spokesperson or (in a larger organization), the Crisis Communications Team, sees itself under immense pressure to respond quickly to demands for information from media.

The first hour of a crisis is often called the Golden Hour because you will have just about one hour to make a good start with your crisis communications. If you fail in that first critical hour, you will end up playing catch-up for the duration of the crisis.

This does not mean that journalists will wait an entire hour to call in, of course. A container of chemical explodes and fire erupts in a plant. Somebody who lives close by your plant notices the fire and tweets a picture. The reports from this ‘accidental journalist’ are retweeted and seen by a local journalist. A mere eight minutes after the blast and the first call from the mentioned journalist comes in. This is the speed at which media inquiries will happen in a crisis.

So what should your first hour of media engagement look like? To fully understand the challenges at hand we divide the to-do’s into inbound and outbound activities for the Crisis Communications Team. None of this should be improvised at the time of a crisis, because the company will – should – of course have a manual that describes what needs to be done by the Crisis Communications Team, and this will have been rehearsed in the past.


Inbound media engagement

  • Notify reception and other entry points into the organization about the crisis so they are made aware that any calls that come in from journalists need to be routed to the Crisis Communications Team.
  • Write every inbound call into a logbook and give the journalist a priority score for call backs.
  • Connect yourself with the Crisis Management Team for both input on the facts and strategic guidance.
  • Draft a ‘holding statement’ – this is a very short buffer statement. In this statement you acknowledge the crisis, say that measures are being taken to face the crisis, and commit to follow-up communication.
  • Make a waiting room and/or other location on the scene of the accident available for journalists who will be arriving shortly.


Outbound media engagement

  • Send out a first short press release as soon as you have enough factual information to do so (that press release should not and cannot be complete, but it should contain at the very least information on the nature of the crisis). Make sure you number the release so journalists can keep track of future iterations.
  • Reach out one-to-one to high priority journalists (for example somebody who works for a major newspaper or press agency) to comment on what is happening.
  • Activate social listening and traditional media monitoring: the best way to anticipate questions from journalists is to understand what is being said and asked online, by journalists and by others.