How to Survive Bad PR

Bad PR happens.

Maybe your company spokesperson said something in public without thinking. And the backlash on your company has been nothing but bad press.

Or maybe one of your employees committed a faux pas. And a social media-savvy customer is spreading the word on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. Remember the “United Breaks Guitars” video?

And what about if your product failed like when Johnson & Johnson recalls infant Tylenol?

It doesn’t matter if you have the most talented staff and the best product. Bad PR happens even to the best of us.

The question is, what do you do when your worst PR nightmare becomes reality? Take a deep breath and…

5 Ways to Overcome Negative Publicity

1. Respond immediately

When bad things happen, the temptation is great to bury our heads in the sand until the storm is over. However, this is the worst thing you could do. While you stay silent, your competitors, media and opinion-makers will continue to talk about the issue. As a result, you lose any control whatsoever of the messages that circulate about your product and business.

In this day and age of social media and instant messaging, every minute counts. As an example, one of our clients had a sales team conference and posted on Facebook what they thought was a funny video – making fun of their customers. The result was a huge outcry of customers offended and clamoring for an answer on the company Facebook page.

If this happens to you, as soon as you become aware of the situation, sit down and put together a public statement. Read on for guidance on what should be in that statement.

2. Take responsibility

If your product is defective, your employee made a mistake, or like in our client example, a company spokesperson committed a gaffe, admit it. Denying it would be lying.

On the other hand, according to Goldstein, Martin and Cialdini in Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, owning up to your shortcomings makes it easier for the public to trust you.

As soon as our client’s  CEO apologized and addressed the customers’ concerns, the tide began to shift and customers who did find the video extremely funny, came to the company’s defense.

3. Demonstrate good faith

Take action to make things right again. Apologize, where necessary, and make up for the errors committed. This may be expensive in the short run, but you’ll be safeguarding your reputation and your customers’ loyalty in the long term.

One of our clients is in the shoe business and a customer complained over social media that she hadn’t received her product – over regular mail service – in the timeframe promised on the site. While our client cannot control the Postal Service, they decided to send over a complimentary pair overnight. Now this customer has become a major evangelist for the company, always praising and gushing over her shoes on social media. Pissed off customers can become your greatest cheerleaders.

4. Keep your cool

One of our clients in the e-commerce industry publishes both positive and negative reviews up on their website. Sometimes the negative reviews are petty and downright…well, dumb like “I pushed my fridge across the floor and it totally scratched the hardwood! I’m so disappointed!” But the client always responds to their customers’ grievances in a courteous manner.

If you’re the victim of downright lies and libel, it’s easy to attack the perpetrator. Don’t! Remain gracious, provide the facts, and continue to focus on the positives of your business… even if you are going to take legal action against the muckracker.

5. Use the right media

If the negative publicity is made in YouTube, make sure you have a response in the same venue — even if you don’t normally use that medium. Of course, your response should cover traditional and social media as well.

Anything Else?

Do you have other tips for surviving a PR nightmare? Have you had to manage a PR crisis before? What did you do to help turn the tide?

Share your insights and experiences in the comments below, or send them to me via Twitter or Facebook.

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