BadNewsHandbook.com by Steven Silvers
I was speaking at a legal workshop when a general counsel asked about evading reporters to delay or kill a negative story. Isn't it best to refuse to communicate with news media until all the facts are known, he asked, and there’s some “good news” to tell?
No. You can’t stop media from reporting a legitimate breaking news story any more than you can push water uphill with a fork. Not only do your pants get wet, but you look like an idiot.
What drives media coverage of your company's crisis or controversy is being first with the headline, and then being first with new information as the situation unfolds. An editor or producer has no obligation to include -- much less wait for -- your company's spin of the story.
In the analog days, we'd say that a story didn’t have to be complete because “there’s always another newspaper tomorrow.” Then we’d wait for it on the porch while enjoying our Tab and Space Food Sticks.
Today, however, updated and expanded versions of a story are delivered as fast as it takes to upload. Confirmations and clarifications, new discoveries, allegations, comment strings, Facebook posts, Tweets and real-time video spread across the ether with mind-blowing speed to form an information ecosystem that didn’t exist only hours before.
Not responding to a negative news story means you're adding another layer of risk to your company's reputation. You leave it to reporters to discover details you don’t have or don’t want to share. Information and speculation get rushed into the narrative, regardless of accuracy.
In most cases you prolong the bad publicity you were trying to avoid.
One more thing. The more obstinate your company in not responding to bad news, the more it becomes part of the story -- even the more damaging PR crisis.
Does that mean you must have answers to every question? Of course not. But there’s a huge difference between hiding under the desk and making a sincere effort to explain what you can and can't discuss. Engaging news media with sincerity during an emerging crisis -- including why you can't comment -- is a credibility factor. You may even get some breathing room to put new information in your context before it goes live.
The rule is the same whether you’re dealing with good or bad news: Say only what you know to be true.
But say it. Your company will be better for it.
Field notes on reputation risk management and strategic communications. The official blog of SilversJacobson, LLC.
Bad News Handbook
By Steven Silvers
What every executive should know about PR crisis, controversy and reputation damage control.