Going Negative on Yourself

Usually communications professionals want to tamp down negative information and kill bad stories. Why would you ever want to put out potentially damaging information on your own organization or clients? 

If the negative information is likely to get out anyway, releasing it yourself can give you a better chance of shaping the story. Of course, you should have a concrete plan in place that addresses the concerns raised by the potentially harmful story. For instance, when a state agency I worked for discovered that an employee had been taking home patients' private health records -- and had left them behind when she moved -- we notified the public, let them know what we were doing to secure the records and prevent a similar incident in the future, and recommended that former patients keep an eye on their credit reports. By putting the information out ourselves, the story became mostly about our planned response and we gained a measure of credibility with the media. If the bad news had come out independently, we would  probably have said the exact same thing, except we would have been responding to more hostile questions and lost what small control we had over the narrative.

Going negative on yourself also allows you to have some control over the timing of the story. The news cycle is a more amorphous thing today than it has been in the past, but it still exists for many forms of traditional media. The goal isn't to have the story go uncovered: it's to position the story in the cycle such that it get covered with a minimum of research outside of that which you yourself provide. Done right, we're talking about a brief blurb on the local news as opposed to an investigative report; something on the newspaper's web site that afternoon rather than on the front page the next day. 

The vehicle you use to get the information out may or may not literally be a press release, but it should follow the same good practices: answer as much of the who, what, where, and when questions as you can in the lede, use a quote to add values-language, and try to anticipate questions in the text that follows.

Choosing to put out negative information on yourself carries risks, but it can allow you to better control the story instead of being controlled by it.