How to Handle Bad News

Lessons in crisis communication from a presidential hopeful.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #135

Mistake #3: He Didn’t Directly Tell His Supporters

Ideally, you communicate the bad news to a supportive crowd. Dave Letterman chose to do it during the first few minutes of his show to a live audience. The weekend before the news story broke, Herman Cain and fellow Republican presidential hopefuls, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum held a fundraiser forum in New York City. This would have been an ideal time to set the record straight directly with his supporters, but he didn’t. Five days after the story broke, he had another opportunity at another fundraiser in Texas. However, instead, an agreement was in place to not bring up the issue. Bad idea.

Mistake #4: He Didn’t Take Responsibility

As of this writing, four different women have described his inappropriate behavior.  Yet, on Cain’s website he writes, “Once this kind of nonsense starts, the media’s rules say you have to act in a certain way. I am well aware of these rules. And I refuse to play by them.” 

Cain is refusing to take responsibility, he is refusing to provide clear information and tell what happened because as he explains on his website, “nothing happened, which they don’t want to hear.”  However, he does have the option of providing more details, to set the record straight, and lay this issue to rest.

Summary: Lessons Learned From Herman Cain’s Campaign

If you find yourself in a position where you need to share adverse news, it helps to follow a proven formula: Be first and fast, tell it all yourself, tell it to your supporters on your home turf, and finally, take responsibility. It’s not a guarantee that this will make the issue disappear, but it will lessen the negative attention and impact, allowing you to get back on track with your business.  


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About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.