Communication: When Bad News Strikes

By Jeff Bond

Communications media expert Candace BelAir has a message for managers: when it comes to dealing with corporate bad news, get your point across to the press by learning to bridge, flag and hook.

No, these aren’t new terms for hunting or fishing; these are three tried and true techniques that any businessperson dealing with the press should know by heart.

BelAir, who was a broadcast journalist for 12 years with companies ranging from CNN to KIRO-TV, has spent the last 14 years tutoring executives and employees on everything from how to communicate during a crisis to the dos and don’ts when giving a PowerPoint presentation.

Almost inevitably, bad things happen in business. When problems do arise and the press comes knocking, BelAir says never offer “no comment.”

“That just invites more provoking and more questions,” she says. “And to the general public, you look guilty.”

Instead, BelAir says that it’s better to explain the situation to the extent possible. But beware: explanations can also make the situation worse if the words aren’t carefully chosen. Picking the right words is where bridging, flagging and hooking can come in handy.

To begin with, an executive or manager talking to the press in any situation should keep the following points in mind:

“If you sound like a broken record, you are doing a good job,” BelAir explains. “Because what you continue to repeat is what the reporters will print.”

BelAir says in the case of a corporate crisis, spokespeople must convey compassion, concern and sympathy. Discuss what you are going to do to make everyone safe. Demonstrate that action has been taken. And as calculated as this might sound, always keep in mind that if you express emotions to the press during or following a crisis, that comment is most likely going to be what makes the papers.

To get the correct message across, try using these three techniques:

In the end, BelAir says the most important piece of advice she offers her clients facing a corporate crisis is “tell the truth and tell it fast.”

“Be proactive rather than reactive,” she recommends. “It’s best that you tell your story first. The American public has a great ability to forgive as long as you step up and fix the problem.”

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