Some thoughts about bad news stories and the press from Bob Moomey:


When bad news strikes it is often the desire of management to make the story just go away. Almost always this is an unreal expectation. News is news and the story will run even if your company tries to ignore it.

A more constructive approach is to consider "What can I do about it?"

There are some simple procedures to get the process started. Ask yourself a series of questions:

  • Will the story run whether we do anything or not?
  • If the answer is yes, then ask the second question.
  • If we participate can we make it better?
  • If that answer is yes, then consider the following carefully:
  • What can we communicate to give our side of the story and show that we care about the issue?
  • Who would be best to present those messages?
  • Where would be best to present them?
  • When would be best to present them?

It has often been our experience that when a company participates in a story it mitigates the damage. The appearance of not commenting or hiding tends to lead reporters to dig harder, to go to unreliable sources, and to perpetuate the story.

Let us assume you have had an explosion or some similar event at a plant and you refuse to communicate. The impression is that you are guilty of something.

On the other hand if your plant manager goes public at the appropriate time with the right statement, it will shorten the life of the story.

Pick your spokesperson carefully. That choice says a good deal about the company's attitude toward the event. The content of the statement is also critical. It should not be defensive or convey lack of concern. Here is a typical one:

"We did have an event at this facility and unfortunately several people were injured. Our first concern is for them and their families. We will be doing everything possible to help. I am pleased to report the incident is over and the plant is now safe. Of course there will be a complete and thorough investigation for the basic reason that we never want this to happen again."

This content needs to be part of all answers to all questions. It communicates three basic messages:

  1. You care about your people.
  2. All is now safe.
  3. You are concerned about the incident and are as interested in finding out why it happened as the media is.

Your spokesperson must be trained to give those messages with conviction and in his or her own words. They must have the discipline not to speculate about causes or get drawn into a defensive posture

We often say a good deal more by not communicating than when we do make a statement that has the direction and tone that we want to convey.

The sample statement is a clear example of being on the right side of an issue versus falling into an excuse-making mode. It will truly only be effective if the person who conveys it really means what they say.

Good communication in difficult times is your
most effective public relations tool.

More about Bob Moomey at


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