Blog Entry 11: What to Do with Bad News

We’ve all gotten bad news at one point or another during our career. Funding decreases, closing to researchers, natural disasters, all of it seems to happen quickly and can be devastating. Most archives have developed a disaster plan for natural disasters, however we sometimes need a plan for disasters that mostly involve public relations.

When dealing with bad news, the archives needs to speak with a unified voice. One of the keys to surviving the situation is the message. When you know the facts, formulate your response. If you need to write an “official statement” write one and hand it off to your spokesperson. It’s important to keep in mind that the message isn’t solely about what is said, so realize that reading an official statement can come off as cold when you want to be warm and positive. Ensure the spokesperson knows the key message, but makes it his/her own. It’s also important to remain calm and stay as positive as possible. If you decide to do an interview, be prepared, anticipate questions and be ready with appropriate responses.

Another key to dealing with bad news is identifying skilled public speakers and/or writers to serve as spokespeople. Make sure that you have developed a list of those who should receive the key message both internally and externally and get that list to the spokesperson. Just as keeping your spokesperson up-to-date is absolutely necessary, keeping the rest of the staff up-to-date is just as important. Remember they will be answering calls from patrons, friends and the general public and will have to have answers. Create FAQ sheets or one-page briefings that will keep staff informed and serve as an aide for the phone calls and emails.

As with anything else, make sure you have a strategy for communicating with the media, patrons and, most importantly, staff. Whether it’s daily briefings or a blog or daily tweets, have a plan and put it into action. Another portion of the strategy may be identifying and contacting people who will write opinion pieces on behalf of the archives. They may be supporters or journalists, but they can be invaluable in times of crisis.

We all hope to avoid crises, and many of us will for most of our careers, but sometimes disaster strikes with little warning. A bit of planning can take you a long way in dealing with whatever is thrown at you. Think of this type of plan as another piece of the disaster planning puzzle.