Your product is under investigation. An employee theft has been uncovered. There’s bad news on the horizon for your organization. Do you take the story to the media or let them find you?
Whether you own a business, are involved in a nonprofit or work for a public entity, the basic rule applies when there is difficult news to share. Be proactive and "Communicate before asked."
Hopefully your organization has a Crisis Communications Plan addressing many of the resulting aspects but if not, it’s time to develop one. When least expected, events arise where an organization is presented in a negative light. It could be unflattering press, crimes against an entity, employee or volunteer theft, product and program failures, accidents, etc. Planning ahead can limit the damage.
I know of organizations that wanted to withdraw when these events took place. The implication was, we’ll put our heads in the sand and hope to "wait and see" if the media will pick up the story. Not everyone knows, but that’s never a good choice. In one instance, a pending police report was bound to draw the attention of the media, yet the leadership was willing to take their chances on the resulting spin. They were hoping it might slip under the radar out of concerns for damage to their reputation and yet they were the victim of the crime.
Fortunately, we were able to sell the idea that we needed to take the story to the media. After all, that organization was the victim of the case and we needed to be certain that the readers would get the message and sympathize with their plight. We even involved the public agencies who could tell their side of the story and the result was a much more positive spin on the situation. It proved once again that being proactive in your communications, even in the midst of negativity, will ALWAYS position you in a more positive light.
Proactive communications "work" for five basic reasons:
Being proactive lends credibility and implies an openness and honesty at a time when it’s needed most.
Proactive communications allow you to control the message to a degree. You have the opportunity to tell your side of the story rather than having one told for you.
Taking the story to the media may allow for a bit of timing. E.G. You don’t want the story released on a specific day or to distract from another major announcement.
Being proactive allows you the opportunity to gather support for your message. This may come in the form of an outside agency, consultant or supporter who can help tell your story.
The opportunity to tell your story allows you to put your best foot, and communicator, forward. Recognize that not everyone has the gift of being able to deliver a message with the right tone. Don’t let pride get in the way and recognize your best communicator might not always be the person at the top of the org chart or the person the media chooses.
Ultimately, being proactive in communicating presents better odds for an organization. It may actually enhance the long term reputation or at least minimize the impact. On the flip side, waiting for a media account to surface, has the ability to cause irreparable damage. This might present the strongest reason yet to be proactive.
David J. Fry is the President of Effective Advancement Strategies in Southeastern Indiana.