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Wax Marketing Blog

Five ways to bury bad news

100 million years ago I worked as an executive at a publicly held tech firm. We knew that in order to bury bad news (ie a poor quarter) we would send the release out at 4 pm on Friday. By the time Monday rolled around there would be two to three more days of news covering ours.   Now more companies have become much more ingenious ways at burying their bad news – rather than addressing it properly. (For more on that, read my post on  “Crisis Communications in a 2.0 World“)

Wondering how they do it? Here are just a few methods I’ve seen. Comment with more examples, please!

1) Flood the Internet with alternative messaging. Piling on the social media releases, blogs and Twitter posts can help bury a negative opinion or story quickly by using SEO. Studies show about 60% of Internet users click on a result in the first page. Keeping that page inundated with positive information – particularly if it appears to come from sources that are not your own – can easily bury negative opinions. I agree with the Online Marketing Blog, though, that using this to address a real crisis is not a long-term fix.

2) Bury it on a holiday. At the end of 2009, a story came out about Goldman Sachs selling mortgaged-based CDO’s to clients and at the same time  selling the securities short themselves. Goldman Sachs supposedly made it quite hard for reporters to reach executives for comment and further blocked the story so that it came out Christmas Eve in the New York Times. Thereafter it’s received little press.

3) Make it impossible to fact-check the article. Although bloggers can write pretty much whatever they want, traditional media still needs to check facts in order to run with a story. Keeping CBS or as in Goldman Sachs “allegedly” keeping the New York Times from verifying aspects of a story can bury it too.

4) Divert the issue.  Although most of the messaging surrounding the Toyota recall focuses on sticky floor mats, the real problem may be the pedal or as Steve Wozniak asserts, it could be a computer glitch. (If you haven’t heard, the Woz ‘s Prius gets stuck at 97mph while in cruise control) Although Toyota states there “may” be a problem with the pedal in its latest update, much of what we’ve seen in our media is concerning the floor mats. The Woz asserts its a software problem, not a pedal or mat issue. Since the main issue is sudden acceleration – something we haven’t seen in any of Toyota’s messaging – this is probably a good example of a diversion tactic.

5) Lie. It almost worked for Martha and it definitely worked for OJ.

Bottom line is that the organizations with true investigative journalists are dwindling. TV and print media no longer has the budget to spend months on uncovering stories ala Watergate. Companies have learned the game and crisis communications firms have become much more adept at the spin.  And that could be a very bad thing for us.

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70 Comments

  1. Christian Siriano Says :
    Posted on February 5, 2010 at 11:02 am

    These are great tips that I will be using them real soon! This article was interesting and will be sending friends and family to read this article. Thanks again!

    • waxmarketing Says :
      Posted on February 5, 2010 at 3:53 pm

      Thanks for the comment. I’m sure in the fashion industry burying bad reviews (not that YOU ever get them) would be essential!

  2. Stephen Wilson
    Posted on February 6, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Those may be effective techniques, but it’s far removed from what they use to preach in regards to crisis communication. Back in the day, it was “get it over with”. In other words, if the bad news is going to come out, have it all come out at once. Don’t delay it over time with a little more dribbling out over time. Efforts to mask a problem can also cause a problem to be a news story for a longer time than it needs to be.

  3. waxmarketing Says :
    Posted on February 6, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Well said Stephen – I’m disheartened by companies who take these approaches when dealing with a real crisis. Today’s media environment makes it too easy for companies to skirt real issues.

  4. Corona Homes For Sale Says :
    Posted on February 7, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Toyota should have read this post they have a real PR nightmare going on today.

    • waxmarketing Says :
      Posted on February 7, 2010 at 6:12 pm

      I agree, although I’ve found the print stories to be rather forgiving of Toyota – no one even mentions that people have died from this problem.

  5. websearchworkshop Says :
    Posted on February 7, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I totally agree that companies are becoming particularly devious about skirting the real issues, especially by using diversional strategies. They must’ve learnt these techniques from Politicians who have been expert at doing this, and important sweeping issues under the carpet, for years!

    • waxmarketing Says :
      Posted on February 7, 2010 at 6:13 pm

      Devious is right – it’s getting way to easy to divert consumers from the real issues. It’s sad, really.

  6. Social Network Software Says :
    Posted on February 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    Unfortunately these once unheard of, underhanded, slight of hand tactics are now page one in the PR how-to handbook. With the social networking explosion it has become too easy to bury the truth, it’s kind of a sad statement on the business mindset these days.

  7. Ryan
    Posted on February 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

    Wow – it is unfortunate to see these as tips people are using on a regular basis. I have friends who have made a professional out of journalism and public relations when it was still a credible profession. And you thought attorneys like myself were sleazy!

    • waxmarketing Says :
      Posted on February 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm

      I am not one of those people that thinks attorneys are sleazy! Thanks for your comment.

  8. body building supplement Says :
    Posted on February 11, 2010 at 1:26 am

    Awesome article!Really i agree these great tips to bury bad news.I am suffering from the same problem and found your article with full of useful information.I am going to implement these tips soon.I also try to recommend this article to all of my friends.Eagerly waiting to read your next article,keep sharing.

    • waxmarketing Says :
      Posted on February 11, 2010 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks for the kinds words. Remember, if there’s a real crisis it’s always best to be up front!

  9. Full Size
    Posted on February 11, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    I couldn’t believe all the Toyota recalls. And I heard Honda is going to recall a ton of cars too because of an airbag issue. Toyota and Honda, who would have thought?

    • waxmarketing Says :
      Posted on February 11, 2010 at 8:14 pm

      Are you kidding? the rental car company tried to give me a toyota but I refused it.

  10. Dooney Purses Says :
    Posted on February 11, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I don’t think attorneys are sleazy either, I use to work for alot of attoneys and you have good and bad ones.

  11. increaseyourtraffic Says :
    Posted on February 11, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    Some companies who wish to bury bad news for sure flood the likes of Twitter.
    The next presedential elections in the US will put that in the shade though, I am sure 😉

  12. Cheaper Auto Insurance
    Posted on February 13, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    I really hate when companies just kind of push the major issues to side when it comes to their customers. Great article!

  13. The Allergy Free Shop
    Posted on February 13, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Of course, you can bury all the bad news by never creating it! I can’t believe the stuff some companies do under the table just to earn more money.

  14. Stratos Jets Says :
    Posted on February 13, 2010 at 7:00 pm

    @#17 – Twitter doesn’t come up in search results often enough to really bury anything. Unless you mean burying Twitter results with your Twitters.

    • waxmarketing Says :
      Posted on February 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm

      Bad news on Twitter is spread virally, not through search. But companies can start tweeting information that diverts the issue or takes focus off the crisis, and that can spread virally too. That’s how you bury it using Twitter.

  15. poorblogger
    Posted on February 14, 2010 at 10:26 am

    In this era.. We can spread bad news using facebook or twitter. More convenient and easy

  16. hydroponic system
    Posted on February 14, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Great article with ways to bury bad news. The use of social networking is a good way to deal with it.

  17. Ben sim only Says :
    Posted on February 14, 2010 at 7:42 pm

    Awesome article!

  18. theuniversityofobama
    Posted on February 15, 2010 at 5:51 am

    couldn’t believe all the Toyota recalls.
    the rental car company tried to give me a toyota but I refused it.

  19. Magic
    Posted on February 15, 2010 at 7:54 am

    You can also create a diversion. This technique is known to be used by politicians. If something more dramatic happens, the media will jump at it.

  20. Stu Says :
    Posted on February 15, 2010 at 6:32 pm

    love the idea of burying bad news in an avalanche of online activity, the problem is that when a major news site runs a negative article about you, you have virtually no hope of pushing them out of top spot in the search engines.

  21. Web Content Writers Says :
    Posted on February 24, 2010 at 5:34 pm

    I have an inkling that public relations people are out there to either cover up bad news or create good news out of bad news. I really like this piece and I’m sure it’ll be handy to me in the future.

  22. Marlboro Says :
    Posted on March 1, 2010 at 5:19 am

    very expensive… share your knowledge and you will blessed a hundred folds. 🙂

  23. Hydroponic Closet Says :
    Posted on March 5, 2010 at 8:52 am

    This website looks great and reads even better! You share some great opinions and insight here. Always looking for motivating blogs to keep mine going!

  24. albuquerque web development
    Posted on March 17, 2010 at 5:27 am

    Great blog! its really useful article and i liked it very much.Just want to say that appreciate your blog.Thank you for sharing.

    • waxmarketing Says :
      Posted on March 17, 2010 at 9:50 am

      thanks for your kind words. be sure to let me know when your blog is up so we can link!

  25. Visibility Shift Says :
    Posted on March 23, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    […] there’s a cheap PR trick I’ve used with clients that can help you bury news you don’t want people to find. Flood the web with good news of your own by sending out tons of free press releases (and paid […]

  26. Even the richest men in the world can’t maintain Internet privacy. « Visibility Shift Says :
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  27. Homes for sale Whittier
    Posted on April 1, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    With all the social media these days it’s hard to stop bad news from going viral on the Internet. With twitter and facebook news travels fast.

  28. Dating Reviews Says :
    Posted on April 16, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    when in doubt, bury. goldman sachs got hit hard today. let’s see them bury that.

  29. homes foreclosed las vegas
    Posted on July 13, 2010 at 12:15 am

    Yeah I strongly agree with the fact that social media would really dominate the future ways of delivering news to twitter with the use of different ways and easier ways.

  30. Andrew
    Posted on August 22, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    One of the best ways is to by the keyword being used (domain) and quickly put up a site, usually it’s a blog and start posting. Or have a good content writer or article company to do posting there for you, using SEO posts.

    It will start pushing the bad info to the bottom. It’s not the quickest way but it’s very effective over a few months time.

  31. Content Writer
    Posted on August 22, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    Again this can take time – it’s not an instant fix, but there isn’t one. Another way is to file a DMCA if your name is being used. They will have to take their site down. Check with your attorney before doing this — but it’s the best way to completely get rid of the issue.

    • bonnie Says :
      Posted on August 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm

      Thanks andrew..hopefully someone wouldn’t have to take down their site but it always is an option as a last resort.

  32. France Dayne
    Posted on August 28, 2010 at 7:31 am

    Sincerely, your post goes to the heart of the issue. Your pellucidity leaves me wanting to know more. Allow me to instantly grab your feed to keep up to date with your web site.

  33. Content Writer Says :
    Posted on September 19, 2010 at 6:12 am

    It’s interesting reading this after the whole BP public relations disaster took place. It shows the difference between good PR teams and bad ones — Apple turned the new iPhone’s reception issue into a positive, whereas BP failed to even make a cleanup and recovery effort look good.

  34. Jeans
    Posted on October 2, 2010 at 5:11 pm

    “I think, almost all of us no want hear a bad news”

    well, sometimes i want to hear some bad news

  35. sim only abonnement Says :
    Posted on October 26, 2010 at 9:39 am

    I wouldn’t lie, that makes things worse

  36. Video Advertising Bro Matt W.
    Posted on November 8, 2010 at 3:01 am

    I don’t think toyota denied their responsibility. Apple also didn’t deny responsibility for the antennae glitch of their iphone.

    However, its sad that goldman sachs never admitted they did anything wrong. But what is sadder is that the internet community, blogging community didn’t take up the slack of the media to get the message across that Goldman Sachs ‘unethical business practices’ should have legal consequences.

    *I also agree that investigative journalists and bloggers who write for bigger causes are only a small group. As there are foundation for public good initiatives like education; I hope there will also be foundations to support journalism or online writers that take on issues for the public good.

    *Hopefully, the consumers using the power of the internet will also compel business marketers and public relations practitioners to work more on building understanding thru transparency and focus less on distractions and cover-ups.

  37. web development Says :
    Posted on December 7, 2010 at 5:36 am

    interesting article, and extremely true! what do you think Apple did when the bad buzz about the iPhone 4G came up?

  38. Cash to Payday
    Posted on December 16, 2010 at 5:21 am

    Well, these tips are very effective and helpful. This may definitely help in hiding bad news.

  39. Trade Show Booths Says :
    Posted on February 15, 2011 at 3:53 am

    True! So very true. I am sat in a seminar and listened to a Sales woman tell the entire workforce a load of rubbish. Once a word is spoken there will always be someone who believes in the storyline. So good new, bad news once in print, or out of mouth the rumor will always bring some doubt in the minds of many.

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  42. How to repair your online reputation | Wax Blog Says :
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    Posted on October 12, 2011 at 4:12 am

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