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How many times have you been asked to prepare an ‘if asked’ statement or ‘lines to take’ in case of potential media interest in a negative story?
How many times have you had to issue those statements to reporters?
If you are anything like me you have probably ended up issuing virtually every ‘if asked’ statement you have ever been asked to contribute to or prepared.
These statements and messages are part of a purely reactive crisis media management approach, usually imposed from the top, which is based on the hope the crisis will ‘blow over’ without media interest and the messages will remain on file and never have to be used. But it is rarely, if ever, successful.
It is easy to see why many organisations continue to be reluctant to break their own bad news – it’s a fear of negative headlines, of widespread media interest and of not being in control.
All perfectly natural concerns.
But in reality all of these things can actually be avoided, or at least reduced, by being proactive with the media during crisis media management situations.
Here are six reasons why you should break your own news:
1. Shape the story
By being proactive with your own bad news you will have far greater control of the story and be able to shape it more effectively. To use a vogue expression, you will ‘control the narrative’.
If a journalist is coming to you about the incident, they will already have an idea of what has happened. They may have picked up on rumours and speculation on social media or possibly have spoken to an employee and you will be on the back foot.
But break the news yourself and you are in the driving seat and it is the reporters who are scrambling to keep up.
It is particularly important to shape the story on social media where rumours can quickly develop and damage reputations and tweets can become their own stories.
2. If you don’t someone else probably will
Even if keeping quiet was thought to be a good strategy, it is unlikely that you will be able to keep a negative story out of the media for any significant length of time.
An employee or a supplier may say something that ends up gaining a journalist’s interest, but the biggest threat is social media, which reporters constantly monitor – 96 percent of UK journalists use social media every day and 92 per cent do so on Twitter.
3. Boosts credibility
Breaking your own bad news creates an impression of transparency, openness and trustworthiness – all important values.
It also shows you are not just prepared to communicate when you have something positive to say.
4. Less media attention
There’s a good chance being proactive with your bad news will actually lessen the media interest and in most instances the faster you respond the more heat you will be able to take out of the story and start to take control.
Reporters will be less inclined to think information is being covered up and that there is more to the story than has been released. They are naturally suspicious when they believe something is being withheld and will attempt to investigate further.
Breaking the news will also help you avoid questions about why the information was not released earlier.
5. Customers will feel you care
The key to emerging from a crisis successfully is to show your customers you care about what has happened and are taking action to resolve the situation and prevent it from happening again.
Staying quiet and letting the media or social media users break the story does not help to convey these sentiments.
6. Develops better relationships with journalists
Journalists remember which organisations handle their enquiries on reactive stories well. If they feel you have been open and honest with them they will be more inclined to cover your organisation when it has a positive story to tell.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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