Breaking Bad – Turning Negative Publicity Around
A well thought out and executed PR campaign is critical to successfully launching a product or business. Do it well and a PR program can help create awareness, drive initial sales and create lasting excitement. Do it wrong and you waste a whole lot of money, and risk damaging a product’s reputation for success.
Case in Point: Abercrombie & Fitch made the mistake of insulting their market when they attacked Jersey Shore’s “The Situation.” What’s even worse – they wanted the star of the hit reality series to stop wearing their clothes! Really! If you’ve ever walked past an A&F store, then there is no mistaking as to who shops there – cool cats and party girls, aka the MTV generation. While A&F thought they were being clever by insulting the beloved TV star, it turned out to be a huge PR disaster. A&F’s stock fell 15% as a result of the PR stunt, proving that biting off the hands that feed you is not very smart.
We all know that publicity is what a company receives when something notable happens. When the event is good, the publicity usually attracts new clients and gives the company something to brag about. On the other hand, there’s also the dreaded negative publicity. Unlike the positive feeling brought about by good publicity, negative publicity can leave the company and the public feeling badly.
Most of the time, bad publicity is unintentional. A company does something they think is positive and end up getting a bad reaction. Other times, the negative publicity comes from a competitor who makes an effort to create bad news about you or your business. When that happens, don’t fret. Take a deep breath. Know that like everything else in our lives, there are ways to turn the negativity around.
Create a response strategy
Turn a bad customer review into something positive by creating a response strategy. Whenever possible, reach out to the customer first, address the issue, and work towards an amicable solution. A bad review is a great opportunity to internalize important customer feedback and develop your business.
Tackle negative press head-on
Stay on top! Look out for trends in the bad press, so that you’re always prepared should (touch wood!), something bad happen to you or your business. Where possible, address the bad press and share your sincere attempts to remedy the issue. We all make mistakes – so own up and take responsibility. It’s what you do after the mistake that matters. Businesses that project an image of integrity and honesty are usually businesses consumers want to support.
Respond quickly but thoughtfully
When things go wrong, a day is too long. Be aware of the phenomenal speed at which information spreads, especially via social networking sites, and take quick action to counter bad publicity. For example, if there’s a glitch in the software you’re launching, don’t wait for user complaints to spread virally. Instead use online forums to alert them and explain what you are doing to address the problem. It shows customers, suppliers and other stakeholders that you are taking your responsibilities seriously and it also helps to defuse a situation before it gets too out of hand.
Don’t be afraid to counteract inaccuracies. For example, if you are aware of a Twitter campaign against you, tweet your version of the story. Contact editors if incorrect information has been published, and use your own website and social media presence to dispel misconceptions.
Easier said than done, you might say. But as PR practitioners, we know that it is essential to keep a level head in the face of a firestorm. In case of a bad online review, sometimes we need to take a step back and remind ourselves that we can’t please everyone all of the time. Take the opportunity instead to fix something that may be wrong with the business.
Launch a positive campaign
Bad PR doesn’t have to stick in everyone’s minds; it can be replaced by positive thoughts of an organization. Take action and go on a positive press campaign. Issue a press release about the good things your company is doing, for example, supporting a charitable cause. Go a step further – get your happy customers to go online and write reviews and before you know it, people will start thinking positively about your company again.
While it may seem impossible to get over negative publicity, there are ways to turn things around and manage the situation. The first step is not to panic. Figure out the source of the negativity and see if you can diffuse the situation. If it’s serious enough, you may need to consult with your legal team. Once you’ve started to quell the flames, it’s time to rebuild your image and get the public to forget. Eventually, a new scandal or interesting story will emerge that makes your bad publicity old news. Once that happens, focus on moving forward and preventing negative publicity in the future.
Posted by Irene Gomez, CIO, Corporate Media