By Jenny Fujita and Joy K. Miura, Fujita & Miura Public Relations

In the wake of the SARS epidemic, The New York Times reported on April 23 “…after a rare admission of failure, [Beijing’s] national officials acknowledged having drastically understated the prevalence of the disease in the capital. The national health minister and the mayor of Beijing were fired.” Now, Beijing’s government is not only working frantically to control the spread of SARS, but also scrambling to restore public trust.

Beijing’s lesson is one from which we can all learn. At some point, every business is faced with something it doesn’t want its publics to know. It’s important to make the distinction between confidential or proprietary information, which the public has no right to know, and information that is grim but newsworthy. An obvious rule of thumb is that when it comes to matters of life and death, full disclosure is critical. “Understating” the facts doesn’t cut it.

But what about those gray areas when the media, your customers, and maybe even your employees want or need the scoop on something you’d just rather not share?

First, remember that problems can present opportunities to tell your story and show integrity. Every piece of “bad” news doesn’t have to be damaging if you are proactive, honest, and smart about presenting the facts. Good timing, good planning, good intentions, and good wording are all in order when it comes to managing an issue.

Second, to determine your story and how to deliver it, ask yourself: what is the silver lining in this situation? Who needs to know about it? When is the right time to share it? Will telling my story save lives, protect property, preserve the environment, minimize negative impacts to my community, and/or enhance my organization’s image? If so, remember SARS: Share All Right Stories.

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