In a Crisis, Shift to ‘Sad’ Mode, Say Professors

The University of Missouri has come out with a study showing that when companies’ bad news is framed from a sad point of view, consumers are more forgiving of said company.

Someone should have told BP this news before National Public Radio declared its Gulf oil spill “a textbook example of how not to handle PR.”

Glen Cameron, the Maxine Wilson Gregory Chair in Journalism Research and professor of strategic communication at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and Hyo Kim of Nanyang Technological University in Singapore conducted the research. The University of Missouri’s news release said that in the study, one group read an “anger-frame” story blaming a company for the crisis. A second group read a “sadness-frame” story, that focused on the victims and how they were hurt by the crisis.

Certainly, this isn’t earth-shattering news, especially to those whose profession is public relations.

“Cameron and Kim found that those who read the anger-frame story read the news less closely and had more negative attitudes toward the company than those exposed to the sadness-frame story.”

This brings to mind the 2007 San Francisco Zoo case in which a tiger leapt from its enclosure and killed a young man: both “sides” in the case attempted to frame the news as sad for themselves. The zoo, backed by PR star Sam Singer , explained that possibly drunken and stoned criminal teens taunted the wild animal. And the dead man’s family framed the story as, well, a tiger killed him at the zoo. In that case, it was just sad for everyone.