Breaking Bad News: 5 Tips for Preparing and Writing Your Press Release

December 2, 2019 Jennifer Davids

Bad news is exactly that; bad. Psychologically speaking, it tends to hit harder than good news, and sticks with us much longer. 

So when a PR crisis hits, it’s important for companies to think carefully about how they respond. 

“Instead of arguing publicly, acknowledge people’s concerns and questions and respond to the right conversations,” says Solomon Thimothy, president of OneIMS and member of the Forbes Agency Council. “Write a press release and post on social media to control the situation and get the message visible.” 

Here are five things to keep in mind before, during, and after you craft your press release addressing the crises. 

1. It’s OK if you don’t Have all the Answers Immediately

When crisis hits, chances are you won’t know all the information– but you’ll be expected to say something.

Brand and Marketing Strategist Alex Honeysett suggests that, while gathering all the important information, companies should be sure to send out holding statements. These can be as simple as a tweet alerting the public that the company is aware of the situation and working to respond to it.

“Then, once you’ve gathered the who, what, where, why, and how, draft a more comprehensive statement, which will replace your holding statement,” Honeysett writes. “This should address what happened, when it happened, and include an update on the status of the issue.”

2. Use Clear and Direct Language

Avoidance is a natural reaction to bad news. It makes sense that you may try to soften the blow by being vague or generalizing the situation. 

However, a press release that dances around the subject often leaves the reader with more questions –and less faith in your ability to answer them.

So, when you sit down to write your release, figure out what your core message is and be as direct and clear as possible in your delivery of that message.

3. Be Transparent

Transparency is vital in marketing strategy and overall brand loyalty, but it doesn’t just stop there.  When announcing bad news, it’s important to be transparent about what you know, and how you’re addressing the problem. 

“Your customers don’t expect you and your teams to be perfect,” states marketing and leadership writer Ekaterina Walter. “Just transparent and honest.”

Even the smallest forms of transparency can go a long way. For example, letting the public know that you’re still gathering information can make a better impression than if you simply said “no comment.”

4. Show Empathy

When clients, customers, or the general public have been affected by your news, it’s important to say you’re sorry– and to mean it.  

“When the you-know-what hits the fan, the first rule of crisis management is to turn off the fan,” said Kim Miller, Creative Director, President of Ink Link Marketing LLC. “Don't fuel the fire. Step back, put yourself in the consumers' shoes and ask, ‘How would I feel if this happened to me?’ Looking in the mirror is the best PR advice there is when dealing with crisis situations. It ensures we do the right thing. And right beats spin every time.”

5. Keep the Lines of Communication Open

Unfortunately, the crisis is not over once you send out your release. Clients, the media, and anyone else affected by the news will continue to have questions.

In your release, it’s important to give them an idea of next steps or a way to get more information. That could be via social media, a help line, or other general contact information. 
Even providing updates via social media can be a good way for your team to both maintain control of the situation while also monitoring the reaction of the public.

While bad news may make or break your brand, handling it shouldn’t break you.

Handling a PR crisis is no easy task. Rest assured though; you aren’t alone. Breaking bad news basically a PR rite-of-passage—  everyone goes through it. It’s how you handle it that’ll set your company apart.

We’d love to hear any tips that you’ve learned throughout your career when it comes to managing a PR crisis!

About the Author

Jennifer Davids

Jennifer (Davids) Flynn has worked at PR Newswire for a nearly four years. As a Senior Customer Content Specialist, she spends her days reading press releases, and advising clients on content best practices.

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