Gearing up for negative backlash puts you in control

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SkyCity Entertainment Group in May announced plans to launch an online casino.

Cue the media storm.

For companies operating in industries such as casino entertainment, the media and public reaction to profit announcements, expansions or business innovations is rarely – if ever – a positive one.

While the SkyCity announcement is an example of how corporate news can spark media and public ire, this sort of reaction can happen to many organisations. So, don’t be too quick to point the finger.

Think about electricity retailers announcing big profits, dairy companies lowering payout projections, councils declaring rate rises or mining companies notifying consent applications. I’m sure you can think of a few more examples yourself.

So how do you as an organisation gear up for big announcements that are sure to bring the naysayers out of the woodwork?  Here’s how to get it right.

Bring your communications team in early

Take the SkyCity announcement as an example: this business decision was likely being discussed and scoped for many years. The time to get your communications team around the table is at the very start of discussions and investigations.  That way, your communications advisor can understand all the background, nuances, stakeholders involved and ramifications for the
wider business.

Only then can you be assured of the very best communications advice and support. Don’t wait until the week before an announcement and ask for a ‘media release’ – that’s not a strategic communications approach, that’s a recipe for disaster.

Commit to being transparent and forthright

If you’re announcing some news that’s likely to be met with negativity, you can defuse the situation somewhat when you commit to being transparent, open, forthright and willing to discuss the situation.

Pick your words carefully – get rid of any corporate speak and jargon.  In front of TV, be sure your body language is open and relaxed.  And in every instance, no matter what questions come your way, be careful to keep a non-confrontational speaking style.

You want your customers and wider community to see you’re willing to listen, understand others’ ways of thinking, and respectful of considered opinions that aren’t your own.

Prepare spokespeople and back-ups

Part of your announcement plan should be to think of every question you could be asked and every negative comment that could be thrown your way.  Then, develop the answers to each and practise them.

Pick your main spokesperson and a few other back-up people.  Get around the table and talk through your Q&As ahead of announcement day.  This will give them confidence to face every question that comes their way.

Clear the diaries

One of the worst things that can happen when negative news hits is that your spokesperson is unavailable for media interviews or has no time to take calls and answer emails from important stakeholders who request a discussion. 

Pick your announcement day and clear your spokesperson’s diary.  Because when your spokesperson doesn’t front, no matter how legitimate the excuse, your organisation looks guilty, cowardly and uncaring. 

You’ve made the business decision – now be ready to discuss it.

Keep your enemies close

Think about groups, organisations and individuals who would likely be the first to speak out against your news.  Then get on the front foot by providing them with information ahead of – or at the same point as – your public announcement. 

While being proactive in your communications with potential naysayers won’t completely defuse all negativity, it will help to minimise the chances of these people spreading misinformation.

Expect and accept negativity

And finally, many times you just need to accept that you will receive a negative reaction when the news isn’t good.

But with thorough preparation, your communications team can ensure you maintain control and get through a contentious announcement with your reputation intact.

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