Even though most of Maria Sharapova’s sponsors have walked out on her since her admission of inadvertently taking a banned drug, most PR professionals will say she’s played a blinder in the way she took control of the announcement.
The first rule of bad news is to make it your bad news and no-one else’s. If you’ve got something that doesn’t put you in the best light, far better that you announce the story and control the message than have journalists do it for you. We only have to look back to the Lance Armstrong debacle to know that trying to cover-up bad news doesn’t go well.
This rule doesn’t just apply to sports stars; any business or individual who wants to keep their reputation in tact in the long-term will usually find that honesty, along with the inevitable short-term pain will likely mean long-term gain.
Getting out in front of the story — let’s call this "the Sharapova Response" — means owning the narrative. Information flows from the source directly to the media, unfiltered, and even if it is obscured later it is done through the lens of an initially honest act. There are no wars to wage, no careers to ruin, no reputations to compromise beyond the athlete’s, which was going to happen anyway. Today’s news cycle is fast. The fastest way to starve it is to remove the fresh meat, and it will wander off in search of its next meal.