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How Can Your Utility Minimize Bad News?

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Andy Gotlieb's picture
Editor of a specialty publication, former public relations practitioner Freelancer

I hold 34 years of experience in communications, mostly in journalism, with a decade in public relations, too.  The first 17 years were spent in print journalism, where I covered, at various...

  • Member since 2016
  • 1,003 items added with 506,899 views
  • Nov 4, 2020

Ideally, your utility will never have bad news that it must publicly announce.

Realistically, that’s not going to happen.

So, how can you minimize the impact of bad news? Well, there are a few tricks you can employ, although if your news will make a major impact, there’s sometimes just no hiding it.

One tried-and-true trick of public relations professionals revolves around timing. Releasing bad news late on Friday afternoon often works. Journalists often are looking forward to the weekend and might miss your news altogether or decide that it’s not worth the trouble of full coverage.

You can also try to hide bad news when something else is capturing the public’s attention. If you put out word yesterday (Election Day) that your newly-hired CFO was fired, do you think anyone even noticed?

Another option is to pair bad news with good news. Of course, focus on the good news in a press release then, later on in the release, mention the bad. It’s kind of like candy-coating medicine.

And when you put out bad news, try to create a positive message to go along with. Example: That rate hike will allow us to improve overall reliability and enable us to better handle bad weather events.

As always, there are certain protocols you should follow when delivering bad news, even if you’re trying to “hide” it a bit.

First and foremost, never lie. Getting caught in a lie tends to be way worse than the actual bad news. Just ask President Nixon.

Be prepared. Know all the details and be prepared for questions that might arise.

Apologize if you should do so. The public is far more forgiving than you might think and recognizes that everyone makes mistakes.

Finally, don’t delay. Get the bad news out and, if need be, take the reputational hit that comes from it. The sooner it’s out, the sooner you can begin repairing the damage. Some feel-good or even evergreen news releases afterward can help.

Andy Gotlieb's picture
Thank Andy for the Post!
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