The downside of living in the digital era is the rate at which bad press or negative feedback can spread to millions of people, much before you can even mount a defence. Reputation has always been important, and more so in our digital age.
Everyone and every business makes mistakes, but to prevent bad publicity from leading to a negative reaction is a challenge most Public Relations professionals face. While big corporation can bounce back easily, a PR disaster for smaller companies could put it out of business or at the very least tarnish the reputation for years to come. The question is what do you do when your firm is thrust into negative spotlight? Although it is impossible to shield yourself completely from the ill effects of negative publicity, you can surely limit the damage and positively spin the PR nightmare with the following reactive and proactive tips:
Have a publicity contingency plan
While it can be hard to predict any futuristic crisis, putting in place a protocol to deal with any negative PR beforehand is the modus operandi of a good PR professional. Obliterate the initial hurdles with these to make sure that when the storm hits, you’re ready for it.
- Appoint a company spokesperson to let press, employees, investors, and customers know who to talk to and listen to.
- Place key messages. Although context-dependent, ensure that the key message is defined and distributed. This is where a good crisis management PR teams earn their keep.
- Staff training is essential. Employees are ambassadors for a firm and, no matter what their role they should be armed with guidelines on dealing with the press.
Manage bad publicity
Communication is the key to managing a PR crisis. Keep the public, media, staff, suppliers and other stakeholders well informed. Keep them updated with your side of the story through written statements about what went wrong and how you are proactively handling it. The sooner you face up to the situation, the sooner you can begin to restore your reputation.
The ‘no comment’ statement makes it look like you’re hiding something and validates what critics are saying. Moreover, this will make the press keep digging for dirt. If you are innocent, fight fabrication with facts. When confronted with negative fiction, stick to the facts and let them speak for themselves.
Know when you should and shouldn’t respond
Haters gonna hate—especially when they can do so behind a cloak of internet anonymity. No matter what, refrain from engaging in any kind of social media flame war. If your company is being criticised online, respond quickly, decisively and honestly. If you are at fault, own up and apologise. This will help restore the public’s trust.
PR professionals know that bad publicity can offer a chance for your business to show its good intentions. The public, too, can be very forgiving, especially if you apologise sincerely, make reparation and explain how you’re going to do better in the future. An unexpected and thoughtful gesture such as sending a personal email, a hand-written note or a “yeah, we screwed up” gift card can make a lot of difference and help resonate your positive message and attitude.
Change the tone
Post bad publicity, you need to produce positive PR. Emphasise on some positive stories. Nothing beats yesterday’s bad news better than making the public remember the good parts. At the same time, assure them that you are doing business in the most honourable manner and doing your best to keep your customers satisfied.