Monday, April 26, 2004

Waiting for the Bad Story 

There is a quiet period before a bad story appears. In that time, clients work to prevent the story from happening. (They can't). They ask an agency to tell them what to do. (The agency tries to prepare them for the worst.) Eventually the story comes and expectancy is rewarded by the force of an awful report. By then, however, the client and the agency will have feared the worst, and the story might not seem as bad as it is. But, it might be worse, and it is hard to tell until feedback comes from customers, employees and others.

I have been thinking about this because we are waiting for a bad story that will embarrass a client, and there is little the client can do. The client didn't create the problem, but the client will be hurt. That's harder to bear.

How should the client react? One thing a client shouldn't do is to hunker and hope. It should tell customers, employees and others what it expects and how to interpret what the story is likely to be. This requires care because one doesn't want to tip off a reporter or others to facts that can create further embarrassment. The client shouldn't tell the tale but say there will be bad news and the client is dealing with the situation.

This won't prevent rumors. In fact, it will spark them, but it is better than handling surprised customers and employees who are easily swayed in vulnerable periods. One shows leadership in advance of the trouble and keeps it when trouble comes rather than hiding and hoping to maintain control.


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