Category Archives: Communications

When you’ve got bad news to deliver

Seven Rules to Remember When a Crisis Strikes offers good guidance for organizations in the news, but the guidance also jibes[1] with my own experiences in IT and on the board of directors of a member organization. When you’ve got bad or controversial news to share with your public, be up front about it, now, and address the situation from your audience’s perspective. In the long run, your target audience will think more highly of you if you’re frank, timely, and realistic about bad news. Even if your news won’t trouble most of your audience, you can still lose their confidence if they think you botched your communications to the angry few.

The “Seven Rules” would have been useful in some recent PR fiascos, like the continuing sagas of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Rush Limbaugh’s comments on Sandra Fluke. Komen and Limbaugh have both lost a lot of support because they didn’t respond to the controversy in a good and timely manner.

In IT and in member organizations, my news has never been on that scale, with nationwide or broader coverage in news media and social media. But even when your public is smaller, sometimes the news will stir their passions and suspicions. You need to tell people what’s going on, as frankly as you can, with an understanding of how this affects them. Got a service outage? Just say so, even if you don’t know the whole story yet. Something sooner is better than everything later.

Did you just make a controversial decision? Say so, and say why, and show that you understand what it means to people. Start the conversation. Don’t wait until the angry mob is at your door with torches and pitchforks.

You aren’t sure it’s time to announce? If you’re wondering, it’s time. If in doubt, send it out.

If the news is something you saw coming because you created it, shame on you if you didn’t plan ahead for the likely PR backlash. I get the impression that Komen disregarded all seven rules when they announced their Planned Parenthood funding decision.

If the news smacked you unexpectedly, like the 2010 BP oil spill, shame on you if you didn’t have a boilerplate communications plan in hand for unscheduled challenges.

The Seven Rules to Remember When a Crisis Strikes are really just good common sense, but only if you take the long view. A natural reaction is to take the short view and try to avoid the initial unpleasantness, but that approach doesn’t pay off in the long run. In the long run, your audience will trust you more if you’re up front with them when you need to be.


[1] Footnote for usage fans: The word in this case is “jibes,” not “jives.” I often hear people use “jive” when “jibe” would have been the correct word.

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