How to handle negative publicity?

“There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary”
- Brendan Behan -

It happened a few days ago. It was my first time. I was in the middle of a meeting with Charlie when Jenny came running into my office. She held up our local community newspaper. She could barely breathe. She just kept on saying “I cannot believe that, I cannot believe that, have you seen what they wrote about you?”.

Charlie took the paper out of Jenny’s trembling hands and laid it out in front of both of us. There it was on page 5, under “around our town” section. It had a picture of my little store with a title which stated something like “Do we really need another copycat chocolate store in our town?”. The article itself was not much better.

My first reaction was anger, how dare she wrote that. She did not even know who I am. Then the feeling changed to despair, “No one will ever come to the store”, I continued to deny, “maybe no one will read it” and turned back to anger.

Charlie looked at me and said “Most people faced with bad publicity or harsh criticism handles it in one of three ways: They ignore it, hoping it will just pass. They call their lawyer demanding to sue the other party, thinking that by doing that they will make sure no one will mess with them again. Or they will try to convince the other party they were wrong”.

I was still upset and asked Charlie which I should choose?

Charlie smiled gently and said “although there are some instances where these may be applied, in most cases there is a better way”.

A good student can explain his teacher’s lesson. Let me tell you what I have learned:

1. Understand the complaint, event or reasoning in and behind the publicity
There are times when there is truth in the publicity. Did we really deliver on our promise? Maybe we need to improve our service/product or our communication. It is not an easy task, but you must understand the complaint/event instead of dismissing it as a personal attack.

2. Communicate fast and be transparent
After understanding the issue, complaint, or blame, it is crucial to be very transparent about what happened in the specific case. You need to write to your community, your clients, your supporters and adversaries what really happened. Do not hide anything, if there was a fault, say it and then explain the steps you are taking now and what you are planning to do in the future. Make sure to communicate fast and consistently and be sure to explain where your communication can be read (it can be your website, blog etc). Make special effort to individually communicate with your top clients, strategic alliances and vendors.

3. Open a channel for a two way communication
Make sure people know how to get back to you with questions, ideas or even just encouraging messages. For example, you can open a dedicated email address to handle the issue. Make sure to answer quickly to the people who took their time to share their thoughts with you.

I am still upset about the article, but I know it might be my business’ best time ever! The time in which my business values shine brightly and new connections are made!

Question: How do you handle bad publicity?


About the Author: Liz

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