Nobody likes to hear bad news. Imagine…police or army officers knock on your door on a rainy night to tell you that your family member has died; doctors look straight into your eye to tell you that you have cancer; your mayor announces that you must vacate your home due to a major flood; or an airline gate agent tells you that your flight has been cancelled – these messages affect the livelihood of individuals or a group of people.

So quite often the messengers approach the situation with some level of anxiety. The phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” dates back to 1598 in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part II. Even earlier, “no one loves the messenger who brings bad news” was Antigone by Sophocles (written in or before 442 BC).

Being a public relations practitioner, we have a fair chance to deliver or help our clients to deliver bad news in the best possible way. Take the Canada Day Drumming Celebration that took place on July 1st 2019 as a recent example. Among the festivities that celebrate Canada’s 152nd birthday, there is an attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the “Largest Group Drum Roll (multiple venues)” across 11 cities in Canada.

Since it took six months to negotiate with Guinness World Records to take on this new attempt via live-streaming, all cities were very excited to take part in this truly Canadian event. Unfortunately, due to logistics issue in some cities (that were entirely made up of volunteers), the attempt fell short marginally.

After a week of franticly gathering evidence, the important task now is to announce the unwelcome result to the regional chairs, the participating drummers, and the media.

As a rule of thumb, there are a few pointers that can help alleviate the already difficult situation.

  1. Be timely
  2. Set and manage expectations beforehand
  3. Do a proper setup for the moment
  4. Get to the point
  5. Explain the background and give details
  6. Separate yourself from the message
  7. Be sympathetic
  8. Offer alternatives

We did just that. As soon as we received the final verdict from Guinness World Records, we advised the client to announce it on the website and social media. At the same time, we sent a personal note to each of the individual drummers and groups. We also informed the media who has been following the event.

Luckily, we have a very understanding and supportive audience. Item 8 was actually offered by the audience – we win or lose as one group, one nation. Let’s do it again in 2020!