4 Steps Firms Should Manage Negative Publicity
It is usually hard to control the press from writing negative news about an organization. Many organizations have gone through this lane but the steps below will help any firm avoid getting into more mess than the one already created by the press.
1. Be Prepared
The time to write a crisis management plan is not during a crisis, and the plan for writing a policy for responding to bad publicity is not when you’re saddened and hurt after a bad PR hit. Be proactive. Take advantage of a calm period to draw up standard operating procedures for handling negative publicity, considering everything from an exposé on the national news to a nasty online review. Figure out who is going to be the liaison with the media and pubic, if required, and how that person will get the guidance on what to say. Don’t forget social media in this analysis — having the wrong person speak for the company on Facebook and Twitter can help a small complaint go viral. When your business finds itself needing to respond, everyone already should know their roles.
2. Know Your Facts
If you’re getting unfair negative publicity, respond as soon as possible with the correction — but be sure you’re right. If a negative story based on erroneous facts about your business appeared in the local press, let the journalist know, firmly but politely, what was wrong and what evidence you have. Good journalists don’t like to be wrong, so if they made a mistake they’ll likely follow up or correct it. But if a reporter asks a tough question and you’re not sure of an answer, the best response is to say you’ll get the information and get back to him — and then do it. It’s much better to say “I don’t know” or “We’re still conducting an internal investigation” than fervently deny allegations only to have to sheepishly correct yourself a day later.
3. Engage Critics
Most businesses have had customers complain about their products or services on social media, whether the complaints are justified. Instead of letting the comments fester and gather strength from a community of others offering solidarity, step in and engage. Offer to fix the problem or refund the money — or both. Then try to take the dialogue offline as soon as possible. Use direct messages on Twitter, communicate privately on Facebook, and otherwise get the conversation out of the public space. Then solve the problem like you would if a customer came into your store with the same issue. Do this well and you can turn the critic into a fan.
If you’re getting bad publicity because you or your business did something wrong, admit the mistake, apologize and offer a plan to fix it. Denial or stonewalling only prolongs the story and encourages people to question your motivation. Ignoring bad publicity won’t make it go away. If you own the mistake, however, there’s less to talk about, it’s over more quickly, and your business and its critics get the chance to move on.