Image: Chicago Tribune
One of the first rules of effective public relations and media relations, especially when it comes to crisis communications, is to have a consistent message. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page recently pointed out the problems the U.S. government encountered after the death of Osama bin Laden.
With various versions of the raid on bin Laden's compound contradicting each other, Page notes: "Just as Americans are feeling really good about our military capabilities and the success of courageous SEAL Team Six, we’re brought down to the earth by the inability of the Pentagon and the administration to get the bin Laden story straight. Don’t be shocked if the narrative changes again."
The problem is that in the chaos that follows breaking news, there is a tendency to speak before all the facts are known or to try to hide the bad news while emphasizing the good news. The hope is that no one will really notice if the truth gets shaded just a bit. That's a dangerous policy. Why?
In this day and age of Twitter and Blogs, someone may raise a concern or a question that will bring the bad news to light. Now you have two problems: the original bad news and all of its implications and the additional scrutiny of why it wasn't released earlier.
That's not to say you must release anything and everything to the media. There are some things that are private or confidential and should never be made public. In addition, bad news should always be put in its proper context and minimized whenever possible.
When it comes to public perception, however, it's good to be seen as one who is honest, forthcoming and responsible. The instinct to reshape the narrative, no matter how tempting, can often backfire and the result might be more trouble than when the crisis began.