Saturday, 8 October 2016

45-6-3-2 RULE; The Formula For Effective Rumour Management

When a rumour threatens your reputation or business; What do you do? 
Ishola Ayodele

Some years back there was a report that two people of the same family died after eating indomie noodles in one northern state in Nigeria. Many people started avoiding eating indomie noodles as the word going round was that indomie noodles now contained some poison that kills people. This resulted in decline in the patronage of indomie noodles and some lost in revenue to the company.
After two month of investigation without finding any credible source of this report it became clear it was a rumour.

Dufil Group, the manufacturer of indomie noodles make a very big mistake in keeping mute in the face of the spread of that rumour. And it cost them to lose some significant market share to Dangote noodles in the north.

According to my mobile dictionary,  A
statement or claim of questionable accuracy, from no known reliable source, usually spread by word of mouth.

Two Professors, Gordon W. Allport and Leo Postman in their priceless book, 'The Psychology of Rumor' wrote, "Rumor travels when events have importance in the lives of individuals, and when the news received about them is either lacking or subjectively ambiguous. The ambiguity may arise from the fact that the news is not clearly reported, or from the fact that conflicting versions of the news have reached the individual, or from his incapacity to comprehend the news he receives".

The fact that rumour usually spread because of it importance to the people who spread or receive it makes it very important for us as communicators to understand the psychology behind *rumour* in order to be able to advise our clients effective on how to manage it especially if there is a possibility of it leading to a big crisis.

Rumour just like news has a particular life cycle within which
1) it can cause great reputational damage, decline in sales or lost of customers.
2) it can be quickly contained and permanently debunked before it could cause any damage.

In his thought provoking book, 'The power of Communication' NYU's Adjunct Professor of management and President of logos Consulting Group, Fred Helio Garcia wrote about the 45-6-3-2 rule of Crisis Management which I find very useful for effectively managing rumour.

The 45-6-3-2 RULE
This is a reality-based observation of the news cycle and points at which one can influence the cycle.

This is what it means.

There are specific points in a news cycle where it is more possible to kill a negative and inaccurate story(rumour), and to control and diminish a negative and partially accurate story.

Miss one of these points, you will suffer reputational damage. Worse, the distance between the points grows in an almost exponential fashion, as does the spread of bad news and likely reputational damage.

This is how it works.

45 Minutes:
Within the first 45 minutes, give or take, of a news cycle you have maximum influence on the outcome of a story.

If a rumor prompts a reporter to begin working on a story, the first 45 minutes are critical. During this time, only a small number of people, and possibly only one reporter, knows about the rumor and is working on a story.

If, on the other hand, you are unable to respond to the reporter within the first 45 minutes or so of the news cycle, a number of very powerful negative things happen.

First, the original reporter is likely to be working the phones trying to get confirmation of the rumor, in the process retelling it to sources, who themselves can pass the rumor along to other reporters.

Second, given the proliferation of all-news television, radio, and the internet, the chances are high that the story will break quickly.

6 Hours:
Once a story crosses a wire service, is broadcast on television or radio, or appears on the internet, it is, at least for the moment, out of your control.

It may still be possible eventually to control the rumor and even to kill the story. But now it will much more difficult. And it takes much longer.

As a general rule, once a story is broadcast you can expect to have at least six hours of negative coverage.

During these six hours, more and more reporters are coming to the story, and the story is being rebroadcast on competing media outlets. More and more people become aware of the rumor, and it grows exponentially.

If a story appeared on one all-news cable television, the odds are high that it will appear on others and on the regular network or local TV news stations that night, and in drive time radio. Your customers, employees, suppliers, competitors, regulators, and local community are made aware of the rumor and can begin to act on it, to your reputational and business disadvantage.

If you are unable to control the story during this phase of the cycle, however, expect several days of negative news.

3 Days:
Once a story hits the daily newspapers, you can expect it to be alive for several days. During the day the story appears there is likely to be television and radio commentary about the story, as well as gossip among your customers, employees, and competitors.

The day following publication, newspapers that missed the story on day one are likely to pick it up as their own day one story. Even newspapers that carried the story on day one can carry a second-day story of reaction to the first story.

And those who come late will themselves carry their own second-day stories on day three.

 But by this time you will have suffered several days of reputational damage and will have seen a much wider range of people exposed to the negative rumor.

If you cannot control the story during these three days, expect at least two weeks of negative coverage.

2 Weeks:
After the daily newspapers have had their run, there is still a further news cycle that includes weekly and semi-monthly magazines, industry trade publications, weekend newspaper wrap-up sections, and the Sunday morning talk shows.

If a story has been alive for three days in the daily press it is unlikely to escape some notice from the weeklies and semi-monthlies.

If, however, you are unable to control the story in this timeframe, expect continuous coverage, coverage of Clinton-Lewinsky or OJ Simpson proportions.
A company is unlikely to recover from this kind of scrutiny.

Please share your thoughts with me by clicking on the post a comment box below

Ishola Ayodele is a Public Relations practitioner and a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations.
He offers the following services to Large Corporations, SMEs and Individuals.
Result Oriented Communication,
Effective Crisis Communication,
Effectual Political Communication,
Reputation and Image management,
And Impactful Presentation Coaching.
He can be reached on
BBM 58ED6030,
twitter @ishopr and via

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