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Written by Mitch Collier, Media and Communications Consultant

No one enjoys being the bearer of bad news and no one enjoys being the receiver of bad news, regardless the context. However, how you communicate a message to someone they’re not going to like is crucial to control the fallout.

What not to do

Lockdowns returning to Victoria and New South Wales has allowed the country’s two biggest football codes relocate the bulk of their teams to South East Queensland. Which caused several high-profile resorts/hotels on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts to be used to accommodate the mandatory quarantine requirements of the teams.

The last minute decision by the government had the hotels cancel their current reservations with little notice. This included weddings and receptions, meaning the respective hotels had to have some very awkward conversations.

Kathryn McDowall was one hotel guest who was adversely affected. She was due to marry her long-time partner on the Saturday after the teams arrived and had already booked the wedding party and 10 rooms at the Novotel Twin Waters.

But when she heard the bad news, it wasn’t via an employee of the resort calling to communicate a change that was out of their control. Instead, she found out through her uncle who received a generic email from the hotel informing them of the cancellation.

Stories of this nature are popular with the media. Not only have the couple had their wedding ruined, the incident reiterates the negative perception that sports stars and celebrities receive preferential treatment during COVID.

Needless to say, this story found its way into the media who slammed Novotel over their handling of the incident, who then exacerbated their reputation by refusing to provide a comment when contacted by the media.

A little empathy goes a long way

Yes, it is a difficult conversation to have, but Novotel could have saved face if they approached the matter as an opportunity to be human. A personal phone call from management would still result in a devastated wedding party, but consider how the media would report it differently under that scenario?

In fact, we don’t need to think about it as we have a comparable case study from the very same hotel chain. In the same week, Novotel Surfers Paradise faced the exact same dilemma. But rather than sending an automated email, staff at this Novotel picked up the phone.

Not only did the bride-to-be hear the bad news directly from an employee, the hotel also offered a refund, two free nights’ accommodation at a time of their choosing, and even offered to assist with finding an alternative venue.

The result? Still a distressed bride ready to turn to the media, but on this occasion the hotel wasn’t in the firing line. Rather, the negative attention was placed on the state government for giving preferential treatment to football players.

Bad news is inevitable for any business, but the way it is communicated will allow the deliverer a level of control over the situation. From a business perspective this means using empathy throughout your communications to ensure your relationships with guests, clients, stakeholders are perceived as genuine and trustworthy. Having an issues and crisis management strategy in place when delivering bad news and speaking with the media will ensure your business avoids criticism.

The SAS Group expertise

The SAS Group are experts in issues and crisis management. In 2018, LUSH Cosmetics faced an existential risk after finding a $2 million, eight-year error in its payroll systems. LUSH engaged The SAS Group to devise and roll out a comprehensive stakeholder communications plan encompassing staff, unions, the Fair Work Ombudsman, Government, Opposition and media, to ensure the issue was seen as a genuine error by all parties.

The result? LUSH was honest and compassionate with its employees and avoided damaging media headlines while maintaining its reputation, because they were proactive with communicating their bad news.

If you’re in need of professional guidance to navigate a delicate communications issue, the SAS Group can provide expert help. We can handle media inquiries on your behalf, assist you in preparing and delivering a response, and act as your spokespeople where needed. 

Contact us for more information.

The SAS Group is your trusted partner for government, media and corporate engagement.

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