Best Practices for Making Bad Publicity Better

True or false: There is no such thing as bad publicity.

If you said “true”, you are likely of the mindset that as long as someone is talking about you or your company, it’s an indication you are relevant and you’re pleased that your brand is being reinforced in the market. If you are a Kardashian, you’re probably a lover of all publicity.

If you said “false”, you might be thinking about how leaders in the Catholic church are feeling in light of the most recent sexual abuse allegations. Or perhaps you are recalling last year’s publicity disaster involving United Airlines and the older passenger who was dragged off the plane. Both these organizations probably wish certain stories would just go away.

If you’re unsure how to answer the above question – well, you aren’t alone.

Recently a client asked us how to respond to an article that included some critical remarks about the company’s primary product. The writer offered far more praise than criticism, but the client was still upset by the negative comments. The client wanted to know if we thought they should write a rebuttal or if it would be best to simply ignore the comments and hope that the market would overlook the story – or at least quickly forgot the negative statements.

As we shared with our client, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to addressing negative press. However, in the event your organization or products are profiled in a less-than-favorable light, here are a few best practices to consider.

Remove the emotions. It’s human nature to be defensive and even feel hurt by critical words. However, when criticism is hurled in your direction, it’s best to start off taking a deep breath instead of immediately lashing back.

Assess the criticism. Once your emotions are in check, review the critic’s words and decide if there is any validity to the critiques. If the comments carry some truth, be honest and acknowledge what is true. If the critic is off-base, you must decide whether or not a response is warranted.

Respond or ignore. Regardless of the validity of the negative comments, sometimes it’s best to remain silent and ignore certain issues, rather than fuel the fire and make more people aware of the criticism.  If the negative comments end up going viral, however, consider preparing a thoughtful, factual and unemotional response.

Respond quickly. If you choose to formally address the issue, do so quickly, lest you appear indifferent to the matter or accepting of the criticism (even if you believe the criticism is not valid.)

Own up and be polite. Manners matter, so begin by thanking your critics for taking the time and effort to share their thoughts and for providing feedback that might be helpful in the future. Don’t attack the critic, even if the critic failed to express his criticisms in eloquent or tactful terms. Own up to any valid criticisms and clarify any steps you intend to take to address the concerns that were raised.

Clarify your position. If your critic is not on point with all the facts, explain your position truthfully and succinctly without attacking the critic. This can also be an excellent opportunity to highlight your company’s unique value proposition, so weave in details that emphasize what makes the organization and its products special. Your ultimate objective should to boost your audience’s image of your company and products.

Pivot the storyline. Whether or not you publicly respond to negative comments, now is the time to change the storyline and seek opportunities for positive press. Proactively secure media interviews for company leaders, allowing them to comment on current industry trends – which could simultaneously boost their credibility and the company’s reputation. Consider publishing articles bylined by company executives on topics that highlight their industry knowledge and innovative thinking, and align their positions with the organization’s overall values and mission.

Most companies will face bad publicity at one time or another. If your organization is hit with unwanted negativity, take time to process any hurt or upset feelings and then start planning your strategy to minimize any damage. If you require outside resources for advice or to provide additional band-width, consider partnering with a PR firm that has crisis management experience.

Oscar Wilde once said, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” – which, in my opinion, sounds more clever than accurate. Bad publicity CAN be bad. However, if you appropriately respond to bad publicity, it’s quite possible to minimize the bad – and even transform the bad into good publicity.

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