How to Announce Bad News

How to Announce Bad News image frustrated executives updatedHow to Announce Bad News

Bad news more than any other PR activity shapes the negative perception of the profession.

That’s when spin happens. Worse, everyone knows it.

As exhibit A, look at the news release from the Dow Jones when it decided to sever the relationship with the AllThingsD founders:

“For years, Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal has enjoyed working with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher to bring the best of tech coverage to readers around the world under the All Things Digital brand, however, after discussions, both parties have decided not to renew the agreement when the contract expires at the end of this year.”

Right.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the official statement from USC on parting ways with its football coach over the weekend. For those who prefer their news in staccato bursts, no need to read beyond the headline:

“USC Head Football Coach Lane Kiffin Terminated”

I’d say the word “terminated” nicely captures the moment.

Let’s break down the 100 words of body copy.

Lane Kiffin as been relieved of his duties as USC’s head football coach, Trojan athletic director Pat Haden announced early today (Sept. 29).

Even with the passive verb structure, the opening line does its job supporting the headline.

My only quibble relates to hyperlinking his name to the press guide bio. Why remind everyone of the hype that accompanied his hiring like, “To the recruits and parents we’ve talked to, USC hired Vince Lombardi” (compliments Greg Biggins from ESPNRise.com)?

Haden informed Kiffin of his termination upon the team charter’s arrival back in Los Angeles early Sunday morning following USC’s 62-41 loss at Arizona State.

Clinical explanation of how USC told Coach Kiffin, giving journalists a reason to attend the press conference and learn the gory details of “the deed.”

Kiffin’s Trojans have lost 7 of their past 11 games. USC is 3-2 this year and has lost both of its Pac-12 games. His overall record in 4 years at USC is 28-15.

A quick reminder that if you don’t win most of your games, you don’t keep your job.

Haden will hold a press conference at USC on Sunday afternoon at a time and place to be announced.

Stay tuned.

Now that’s how you communicate bad news, short and sour. Save the storytelling for better times.

One related point—

I do like the way Google News now pulls “highly cited” content from non-media sources – in this case, the USC website – to round out the collection of media stories.

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