In today’s social media-heavy world, brand reputation is one the most valuable assets a business owns. One negative article about your brand from a major media publication or a negative interaction on social platforms can trigger a public relations crisis. This ruins your credibility and leaves your business in shambles. Even if it isn’t your fault, negative publicity leaves a lasting impact.
No company enjoys dealing with a PR crisis, but the good news is that negative news can be overcome. There are countless examples of brands and individuals that have recovered from a scandal and are now viewed in a positive light. PR disasters are one of the worst things to happen to brands, but they can be overcome.
So how do you deal with negative PR? In this post, we’ll go into the details of how to manage bad coverage and how to turn it into an opportunity to control the narrative.
As you’ve probably noticed, how a company reacts to bad press can sometimes be more detrimental than whatever the initial mistake/crime/misstep was itself. Since this can happen more often than not and is sometimes out of your control, here are some actionable steps for when your company (or your personal brand) finds itself in a bad news cycle:
Do your research. Anticipate the hard questions you’re going to be asked and how your answers could tie into current events. Yes, you may be getting bashed in the press, but take the time to see what else is going on in the news. Avoid tone-deaf, knee-jerk reactions. We’ve seen this before: Companies taking little regard for cultural appropriation, gender, race, sexuality, politics and other issues at the forefront of the public’s mind.
Have a team that will be candid with you about these sensitivities. It will only be to your benefit to know what is going on around you. If it appears as if you are operating in a vacuum, you leave yourself subject to even more criticism.
People don’t like excuses. PR is simply drawing out the best, most newsworthy parts of a story or theme. However, many people are under the assumption that PR is pure spin, and while, yes, that can be part of what we do, spin doesn’t equate to lying or being evasive—even if the press you’re receiving is bad. If what’s being written is true, own up to it and find a way to make it right—that’s just good business.
If it’s not true, find a way to set the record straight in an upfront and rational manner. At the heart of any good relationship (personal or business) is good character and ethics and PR is absolutely no different. Maintaining this throughout the process is crucial to establishing trust with anyone, including the media.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know what potential questions you’re going to get asked. Prepare your points ahead of time for yourself or your spokesperson. Don’t try and pull the rug out from under them. You always want to be able to answer media questions like “Why?” For example: “Why is this important? Why are you doing this now? Why is this relevant?” If you are being compared to a competitor, make sure you can highlight where you differ. The more you sound unsure or beat around the bush, the less credible you look. Also be prepared to offer a public apology.
Especially with digital media and social media platforms, it’s close to impossible to stay ahead of a story — especially when the story is bad. News, whether good or bad, spreads fast and emotions run high. Public scrutiny is a legitimate issue for any brand. Negative online reviews and customer service interactions quickly ruin your brand’s perception.
Reporters recognize this as well and want to be able to report their content in a timely manner. Oftentimes, they are trying to beat other media outlets to the punch. Make sure you are available to them and can move quickly with them. The longer you make reporters wait for an email response or call back, the more likely you are to lose your chance to tell your story.
After this is over, if you’ve kept your head down, stayed calm, and made yourself accessible to the media — you will have new media contacts. It’s in your best interest to continue following what they write, who they are, where they are based, etc. Since there is already a relationship intact, chances are higher that they may be willing to work with you on a more positive story down the road. Follow them on Twitter, comment on their articles in the “comment” section and better yet, share their content.
It’s a tough day when bad press strikes, but these steps can at least point you in the right direction to make things better. If things really start to escalate and you find that your DIY tactics aren’t doing the trick, there are PR firms that specialize solely on crisis communications. A quick Google search will get you results, or be proactive and start asking around.
For the solopreneur, business owner, and early-stage entrepreneur, simplicity is key. One way to keep things simple is to make sure you are clear on what you stand for and what you have to say on certain topics. When you have this clarity, it’s easier to stay on track when answering questions.