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Tips for Announcing Bad News

Announcing bad news can be scary for organizations. However, with a strong plan and using MarTech like AI, businesses can avoid many of the negative impacts of a crisis.

No business leader wants to face a crisis situation where they have to deliver bad news to consumers and stakeholders, but virtually every organization will come across these times at least once — whether minor or severe. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, so organizations should prepare for the worst before it happens by developing a clear and thought-out plan to deliver bad news. 

The core concept of a crisis response is damage control. Inherently, bad news will have some sort of negative impact on the business. With a proper, thought-out response, organizations can manage the damage to their reputation enough that they can recover from the ding they have experienced. However, a clumsy response can result in the situation spiraling out of control, causing a permanent detrimental impact on the organization’s reputation.

Finding the right representative to deliver the bad news

One of the first steps an organization must take when preparing to announce bad news is determining who will be the representative. At the same time, it’s crucial to remember that this person effectively becomes the face of the organization in the firestorm. Will the organization and its leadership represent themselves or use a third-party spokesperson, such as a lawyer, to communicate with the public? The appropriate method depends on the complexity and severity of the situation at hand.

The most important quality this spokesperson must have when representing the organization in a crisis is level-headedness. They must be calm, cool, and collected when delivering the news, as well as during any follow-up questions they may be asked in the moment. Of course, an organization might not have all of the answers upfront, but the representative or spokesperson must still be able to effectively defer these questions until they can provide a satisfactory answer. 

Developing a goal and game plan for your crisis response

The communications an organization has in a crisis must always be direct. No matter how bad the news is, it is unwise to dance around the facts. Although the truth might land the organization in hot water, the trouble will be even worse if the representative lies or covers up the truth and is found out later. The public is quick to forgive and forget mistakes, but if lied to, they will lose their trust in the organization in the long run — perhaps even permanently.

Thus, an organization and its spokesperson must identify a goal for their communications strategy and align in this direction. For example, one goal might be to address an allegation or “plead the fifth.” Whatever the goal, the spokesperson’s job is to make the organization’s stance known in a way that will hold back any public outcry. Accepting accountability for the crisis while simultaneously figuring out the path forward is a great way to buy some time for the organization to flesh out its response.

After deciding on a goal, the organization and its representative must develop a game plan to determine the course of action. We live in a fast-paced society where the public will want immediate answers, but many issues simply cannot be solved overnight. There may also be investigations, litigation, or other steps that could slow the process down, so the organization and spokesperson must be prepared to address these slowdowns and satiate the public to stall for time.

More importantly, an organization’s spokesperson must ensure their message does not get mixed or lost in any communications, which is why it is good to have a single point of contact through which all information can flow. If a spokesperson has a strong plan, they can ensure consistency in all of their responses. Even if the situation is chaotic, a level-headed and consistent response can give the appearance of control to the organization.

Being adaptable when delivering bad news

However, no matter how strong an organization’s planning may be, there will be unexpected challenges that arise. A robust game plan leaves the organization and its spokesperson ready to expect the unexpected.

Some organizations have found success leveraging MarTech, such as artificial intelligence, to test aspects of their crisis response before delivering to their public. By testing different approaches, organizations can make informed decisions about what might guide them to the greatest chances of success.

Finally, organizations should be open to feedback and adjustments when implementing a crisis response. Sometimes, things don’t work out the way one expects, and the public doesn’t react to a response as intended. In this case, an organization must adjust its plan reactively rather than attempt to double down on an ineffective method. Organizations that stay on their toes are able to better adapt to the changing needs and desires of the public.

Successfully navigating bad news with the public requires organizations to designate an adequate spokesperson and develop an appropriate game plan. By following these tips for effective planning, organizations can come out on the other side of a crisis with minimal casualties and avoid facing irreparable damage to their reputation.

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Thomas Mustac

Thomas Mustac is Otter PR‘s medical and health industry PR specialist. He previously held positions at the Dr. Oz Show and New York Medical College. He has his Master’s Degree from Iona University and received an Advanced Certification in Nonprofit Public Relations. He has a diverse background in healthcare, pharmaceutical, telehealth, tech, cosmetics, sports, and interior design public relations..

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