They’re not going to say anything good about us—How to handle bad news

by admin on August 12, 2011



Another interesting article from Media Post documents (laments?) the trials and tribulations of Martha Stewart.

In an article titled, “Martha Stewart, Public Relations Failure by Drew Kerr,” the article addresses New York Magazine’s investigation of Stewart’s company:

“You have a decision to make — do you cooperate or not, and how do you steer this article to make it as favorable as possible because you sense there could be trouble?”

“You decide to opt for a complete, utter, across-the-board shutdown.”

“Fast forward: the article appears and it’s a real shredder — you come across as a micromanaging witch who won’t listen to anybody…”

“The Martha Stewart strategy was, I imagine, “They’re not going to say anything good about us, so why should we say anything?”


So how would we handle the situation?

We in government, associations and nonprofits make a variety of mistakes when confronted with bad news:

We emulate political spin.

We emulate corporate spin.

The problem is that politicians and corporations play by different rules. Quite simply, we have to be accountable to the public we serve. There is no such thing as spinning bad news. We are not beholden to stockholders or to a political party. We are accountable to the general public.

Whether we like it or not, we are also beholden to the media. They get to pick the story and the reporter. Fair or unfair does not enter the picture.

We have one option, truth and accessibility

Bad news is going to part of our lives; it’s impossible for us to do what we do and not encounter problems.

But how we react to bad news set’s the tone for future coverage.

The formula is simple; admit mistakes and show the public what you will do to solve the problem in the future. Fess up and get it all out in one interview; leave nothing behind.

Make the bad news as short as possible, learn from your mistakes and move on.

What you do with this “strategy” is make the news cycle as short as possible and you gain credibility for the future. The biggest problem for our agencies is that we tend to over-respond to bad news. It happens. Move on.

“Experts” will keep you in seminars for days regarding strategy and bad news events. It’s unnecessary and counterproductive.

Keep it short and sweet; here’s what we know and here’s how we are going to fix it in the future and we regret the event.

There is one reward for being upfront and honest, respect. As long as you are honorable people doing an honorable job, the media and public will understand difficulties.

Best, Len Sipes.


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