How to Release Bad News
You don’t have to be a politician or celebrity to face a negative news story. In fact, you may not realize it but you probably manage negative news at your job and in your personal life on a weekly basis.
Did you make that call I asked you to make?
Why were you late to dinner?
What do you think of the new young hire?
All of these questions have double-blades that can easily get you into trouble. Earlier this week, someone asked me for advice on how I would manage the announcement of a recalled product. He wanted to know if I would advise the manufacturer to stay quiet about the recall or make it public.
First off, all product recalls are not classified the same. Product recalls have different degrees of danger, so they require different approaches. A product recall that could result in death obviously ranks higher than a broken product that causes minor inconveniences.
It’s the same situation with your business when it comes to releasing bad news. There is no “one-size fits all” with crisis communications.
Now that you understand that, here is a condensed version of how I answered that recalled product question.
Be Transparent, Stay Ahead of the News and Don’t Lie
If you project the vibe that you are hiding something, customers will run from you and the media will run to you. The best news stories have conflict and when reporters discover a subject lied in the interview, they have instant conflict for the article. You can not mince words when asked direct questions or reporters will become suspicious. As a journalist, my radar started flashing red lights when I noticed the interviewed subject seemed to be avoiding my questions. Be direct with your response. Likewise, customers don’t want to feel like you pulled a fast-one on them. The moment they start to feel that you are hiding something, they will desert you.
Stay Ahead of the News
It is much easier to put out a fire before it starts and it’s no different with media fires. You can better manage negative news from day one when you are in control of the message. You are more in control of the narrative when you are releasing the information. I’ve run several crises campaigns where lawyers were also closely involved with the media strategy. The legal consultants always wanted to advise my clients to close their mouth and not answer questions. You know what I say? That is stupid advice when it comes to the media. It might work for your legal defense, but when it comes to journalism, you are giving a reporter cart-blanch to write any story they want by saying no comment. Reporters love it when you go in hiding because their jobs become easier. Don’t make it easy for them.
You get caught lying and all of your credibility is lost. It’s harder to massage the message after you are caught trying to deceive. It might seem easier to lie your way out of the problem, but trust me, that is myopic. You need to look at the long-term picture because a bad reputation will follow you for years. And if you’re dealing with a seasoned reporter who has prepared for your interview, you are in more danger by lying when the cameras are rolling. Just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner about that. If you forgot about that lie, it’s on YouTube and will likely be there for eternity. (Here’s an article I wrote on why I suspected he was lying before he confessed.)
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Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. He now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.