Sometimes, bad publicity is inevitable. Even when you and your organization behave responsibly, you always run the small risk of an unexpected PR disaster.
In the information age, bad publicity can reach the masses before you can even mount a defence. The only thing worse than having your image tarnished in the public light after you’ve done everything within your power to protect yourself is to find out you’re the one who caused the disaster.
Here are tips on how you can prevent and deal with negative publicity:
1. Confront the source: You have to find the source of the problem in order to deal with it, says Mark Grimm, president of Mark Grimm Communications, a public relations company in Albany, NY.
“Go to the source and challenge the fact that what they are spreading isn’t true,” he says. “Sometimes it’s harmless and they’ll apologize. The key is to state something positive that answers the negative publicity.” For example, the negative publicity created by Cyrus Mistry after his termination was handled by countering each allegation.
2. Make amends: If there is genuinely something wrong, correct it. Going above and beyond to fix the problem makes people feel like your company cares about them, says Lea Richards, owner and founder of Pig of the Month BBQ, a nationwide mail-order barbeque company based in Dayton, Ohio. For example, when the new product launch in 1985 was a disaster for coke, with huge backlash for the new formula, coke made amends by bringing back the old formula.
3. Don’t fight hate with hate: Sometimes, you need to be strategic with your response to negative press. One of the best things you can do is avoid responding in a negative way when dealing with your detractors. This can make them behave outlandishly, and the face of your criticism will lose their credibility. Therefore, it is important to carefully evaluate the comment or news as it helps you craft a better response, resulting in a better outcome. Try not to get the last word in; one this process starts, it becomes a race to the bottom.
4. Position yourself as a problem solver: Don’t miss the opportunity to collect feedback when you’re facing negative press. Additionally, if a lot of bad news is posted against your company, you should analyze it. Feedback is one of the areas where democracy should prevail. If majority of the media says your strategy needs improvement, listen to them. They’re probably right. Subsequently, take it as an opportunity to build better relationships by coming up with a solution. By solving problems, you can turn negative publicity into positive experiences. Whatever action you take should put you in a better position for recovery and success.
5. Learn how to anticipate: The first lesson is to understand where you are the most vulnerable and where you might be acting in ways that are counter to your customers’ best interests or to the values of your company. Once the press is bad, the fundamentals always apply: Own up to your mistake, do not equivocate, outline a plan to mitigate the issue, and provide follow-up proof that you have met your commitments.
6. Have an ongoing action plan: Be transparent about the issue. Being open and honest is essential to start building trust with your followers and customers. It is also important to have an action plan to rectify the situation and ensure it does not happen again. You can also consider regular updates to the press and your followers on how you’re improving the situation over time to increase your continued transparency.