Spin Bad News

"I wonder what kind of spin they can put on that!"</big></big>
Any News Broadcast

You hear about this all the time in the media, mostly relating to news coming out of some political venue. They are talking about how someone can present negative information in a way that makes it sound like it's a good thing. It's not really lying, it's not "disinformation" but it's not a straight-forward presentation either. In many ways, it's the essence of politics. The same technique is often used by corporations to present less than favorable financial news.

Very often, it isn't possible to know when this is happening because the people doing it are very, very good at it. If it's not done properly, however, it's obvious and transparent, and nothing good will come of it. Here are some steps that will help you get an idea of how to use this technique should you find yourself in a position that requires it.


  1. Research the event: You need to know, to the last detail, what happened. If you don't have this knowledge, you will do better to gloss over the event until you do know. Note dates and times, things that led up to the event, people involved and most significantly, the immediate results.
  2. Create a timeline: This is not just for the past but for the future too. Use your research to build this, then project as many repercussions as you can into the future. If, for example, a retail corporation had a very poor fourth quarter, will you need to close stores; lay off people; borrow money? Identify all the bad things that are likely to come of this.
  3. Create alternate event descriptions: This is where you will build the "spin" for the public. You can't do anything about things that happened - they happened - but you can present them differently.
    • People didn't buy from lower-priced competitors; they delayed premium buying decisions.
    • You didn't have ineffective marketing; you delayed premium advertising to coincide with the delayed buying decisions.
    • You aren't going to close stores; you're repositioning for market acquisition.
    • You aren't laying off sales employees; you're elevating the consumer's experience through added independence.
  4. Roleplay and improve: To do this properly, it takes a group of people dedicated to the result. You will need several "devil's advocate" types to listen to the presentation and slice it to pieces. You want to know every possible argument ahead of time. Use small focus groups and make the presentation, then tweak it, then do it again. Each time the backlash is reduced, you've made an effective improvement. Eventually (after 4 or 5 sessions) you should get to a stable point.
  5. Prepare your audience: You're not going to just jump in and make your presentation. You want the audience to be receptive to your information. Start leaking information that is favorable to your position and negative to any alternate position. You will neither confirm nor deny this information, but you will caution people that any information about your corporation will come from official sources, only.
  6. Pause: Don't release your information immediately following the leaks. Let the audience have time to absorb and process the information - they need time to reach equilibrium.
  7. Go Public: Release your information. Publicly and loudly. A surprise press conference (that was rumored to be in the works) is an effective and time-tested method. Whether you have a Q&A session after will really depend on how good your spin is and, to a large extent, how prepared you are. It's also a matter of personal taste.
  8. See Step 1: Spin only lasts just so long. Eventually, the future catches up to your timeline, and you'll need to make new announcements. Start planning for how you'll do that, now. This is really an endless cycle and there is strong job security for somebody that's good at it.

A video by Iowa State Political Science Professor, Steven Schmidt, explaining how to use the "good news, bad news" spin technique. The examples used are from the 2008 US Presidential Election Campaign.


  • Have diversity in your focus groups. You want the members to be as varied as possible so they will have different views on your presentation.
  • Credibility is critical. Your audience must believe you without any question. You are appealing largely to their emotions.
  • A positive attitude is a must. You absolutely may not allow yourself to exhibit even the tiniest bit of indecisiveness. If you don't believe it, they won't.


  • This can have a serious backlash if there are holes in your presentation. Be as critical as possible.
  • Don't fall for your own spin. It sounds good, makes sense... but seriously, you know better. You built the twist - don't let it go to your head.
  • Be sure about the loyalties of the people that help you. Select your focus groups carefully.

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