Thursday, July 2, 2015

Rip the Band Aid off

When I was a kid, I hated getting hurt. That just comes with the territory when you are a kid and you run everywhere as fast as you can. You are bound to fall out of a tree, off your bike, from the swing set at least a few times in your life.

So, once you get over the shock of seeing your own blood, you usually go home where Dr. Mom cleans the wound out with something that hurts like heck to prevent an infection, then puts a Band Aid on it and tells you to go out to play again until dinner is ready.

Dr. Mom making things all better
While that's all well and good, when it came time to take the Band Aid off - especially from a hairy area - that's where the real challenge came in. You were faced with the dilemma of all dilemmas - either slowly work the bandage off, enduring a prolonged bit of agony or yank it off as fast as possible, pegging the pain meter to 10, but only for a short amount of time.

As a public information officer, we are faced with this dilemma whenever our organization has bad news to deliver. There are some - especially those who are in the legal profession - who believe in releasing only what is absolutely necessary to satisfy the reporter's request. That's it. No more.

Unfortunately, this approach rarely works. As one bit of information is given, it frequently leads to follow on questions. And, as the reporters set to work digging in the area you don't want them to dig into, additional information is bound to be discovered, prolonging the life of the story. After a while, the story may even cease to be about what the story was originally, instead becoming about the obfuscation itself.

Think the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Watergate. Iran Contra. In each of these cases, the slow release of bits of information was like blood in the water, attracting reporters who knew that there was more - much more - to discover the more they dug.

If you don't come clean fast, the media can make the story about the lack of cooperation
The other option when it comes to removing the Band Aid is to rip it off as fast as possible. In this case, the rapid release of information in the most timely of manners - while not pleasant - is the most direct route from zero to hero.

Remember, we are all human. And, everyone - the public, the media, colleagues - will forgive mistakes. They will forgive miscalculations. They will even forgive crass stupidity if that's what landed your organization in hot water to begin with.

Kevin Durant knows the importance of admitting he was wrong
The amazing thing is the more I looked for stories about people who admitted up front they had made mistakes, the more difficult it was to find examples to show. There was Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team who told reporters they didn't know doo doo (he used a stronger word) about his team's chemistry after critiquing their play. He apologized for his actions, citing that he had been cheerfully available to the media for eight years before this incident. A few chuckles were had, and he went back to playing the game he loves.

The reality is that the maximum disclosure of information in the shortest amount of time shows reporters that you respect their time, their efforts and their intelligence. It also shows that your organization is transparent, and willing to take steps to correct issues as they present themselves.

So, when faced with a difficult situation, go ahead. Rip that Band Aid off. You'll be happy you did.

Tom Iovino, Public Relations Strategist
Hillsborough County, Florida

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