[PRO Guide] How to Deal With Bad Press in 2024

by | Jun 13, 2024

It happened! Your company’s brand received negative publicity and is now in the eye of a PR storm. Bad press can happen to any organization from not-for-profits to new tech startups in Toronto.

 

You know the saying, “Any press is good press”? Don’t believe it. Whether it’s doors blowing off at Boeing or cyber breaches at London Drugs, you need to be media ready. Proactive responses balanced with clear, consistent communication strategies will help you thrive and survive any PR disaster.

 

Here are some tips from a seasoned PR pro on how to deal with bad press while protecting your reputation.

 

Set up Google Notifications

 

You can’t respond to bad press if you don’t know it exists. By setting up Google Notifications you tap into the conversation of what your customers and clients are saying about you and your brand.

 

Even though negative feedback stings, there’s nothing to be gained by burying your head in the sand. Monitoring your reputation is vital! Keep in mind that anyone who is searching your company online can potentially see these negative mentions, it’s in your best interest to be proactive and spin things in a more favorable direction.

 

This is why Google notifications are a powerful monitoring tool. You can set up alerts that will notify you anytime your company’s name is mentioned online. It might not cover all the stories, but it will give you a ‘heads up’ anytime your brand is mentioned.

 

Investigate the Story

 

Once you are aware of a negative story about your company, resist the urge to jump to conclusions. Get the full picture. Who wrote it? What’s their angle? Is it accurate, or is there misinformation? Start by gathering all the facts. Talk to your team, and understand the situation from all sides.

 

DO NOT Ignore It

 

Remember the scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? The actor, Ben Stein, is standing at the front of the class taking roll call and when it comes to Ferris, Stein repeatedly calls his name over and over again.  Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?

 

The camera then pans to an empty desk. If your company is at the center of bad press – and it has the potential to damage your brand – it’s urgent that you answer the public roll call with a well-crafted media statement. Diplomatically set the record straight and correct any misinformation.

 

This will help you shape the public narrative and be part of the conversation with important facts and your perspectives on the topic. Ignoring the public noise can make you appear indifferent or, worse, guilty. It’s always a question of when to respond and what to say. You’ll need to make that judgement call by reaching out to a seasoned PR expert.

 

Respond ASAP

 

Proactive communication is essential when the story can tarnish your reputation. When bad press strikes, your customers or clients want to hear from you. Don’t keep them waiting. Your initial response doesn’t need to be a full report but should acknowledge the issue and assure your stakeholders that you are taking the matter seriously.

 

For instance, if your company experiences a cybersecurity attack, respond proactively. In a cyber-attack, personal data is usually at risk, leaving your customers vulnerable. It’s vital that you communicate as soon as possible and form a place of honesty and empathy.

 

Respond by letting those affected by the cyber-attack know what you’re doing or what you intend to do to rectify the situation and to help them. A crisis communication plan will help you know what steps to take in any risky situation and how to best communicate with your customers.

 

Identify Your Crisis Communications Team (Internal or External)

 

Engage your crisis communication team at the first sign of trouble. You should have in place a small team of senior executives to be ready to assist in any smoldering or sudden crisis.

 

Typically, your crisis communication team is led by your CEO and fortified by the right team members in the right roles to be able to weather any PR storm with confidence. It’s also a good idea to support your internal team with external experts, such as legal counsel and a reputation management specialist.

 

It’s important to ensure that everyone on the team understands how to properly navigate any risky situation, handle the media, craft the right messages, and strategize the next steps.

 

If you want a step-by-step guide on how to identify your crisis communications team, we’ve created a PDF for that here.

 

Regular Communication with Public and Stakeholders

 

To cut through the noise, remember the 3 R’s of communication: Review, Repeat and Reinforce.

 

If your message is heard once, you can’t ensure that everyone who needs to hear it has, and do they clearly understand it?

 

Repeating your message on the right platforms will help your stakeholders receive your message so that it’s understood and remembered. This keeps everyone in the loop and builds trust, demonstrating your commitment to your customers to resolving the issue.

 

 

Take Accountability & Fix the Issue

 

Own up to the issue. If your company is at fault, take responsibility. This shows integrity and builds trust. For major issues like a cyber crisis, immediately engage the proper authorities and consulting firms to address the cyber incident and begin proactively engaging with the stakeholders you’re legally required to inform.

 

Empathetic Communication

 

Empathy and compassion are the cornerstones of all good communication. Acknowledging the impact on those affected and expressing genuine concern is the art of leadership. This will ensure that you calm tensions. Putting people first before property is always the best strategy in any risk situation. After all, people just want to be heard and understood.

 

Reinforce Your Organization’s Key Messaging

 

In a crisis, clarity is key. Consistent messaging reassures customers and shareholders and strengthens your brand identity.

 

Take this chance to reinforce what your company stands for. If your brand values customer trust and quality, reiterate this in your statements: “Our commitment to quality and trust remains unwavering, and we are taking steps to ensure this issue is resolved in a timely manner.”

 

Update Internal Policy to Make Sure This Doesn’t Happen Again

 

As painful as it may be, use every crisis as a teachable moment. Update your internal policies to fortify them. This proactive approach demonstrates responsibility and commitment to improvement and learning.

 

For example, after addressing a data breach, implement stronger cybersecurity measures and train your team on new cyber hygiene protocols. Communicate these changes to your stakeholders to show you’re taking steps to safeguard against future potential issues.

 

Hot Wash (crisis review)

 

Once the dust settles, conduct a hot wash. This is a thorough review of the crisis and your response to it. What worked? What didn’t? Use these insights to improve your future crisis management strategies.

 

Hold a meeting with your crisis team to debrief and analyze the entire event. Document the lessons learned and refine your procedures. This helps ensure that your company is better prepared for any future crises, turning a challenging experience into a growth opportunity.

 

Handling bad press effectively is crucial for maintaining your company’s reputation. By following these steps, you can turn a potential disaster into an opportunity for growth while protecting your reputation.

 

Need expert help managing a PR crisis? Contact Solv Communications today for a consultation and ensure your team is prepared to lean into challenges with confidence and clarity.

Nicole Harris

Nicole Harris is the Founder and CEO of Solv Communications, a leading Reputation Management and PR agency in the Prairies. As a former network television news anchor and reporter, Nicole has gained deep insight into the power of earning trust through strategic communication. Over her 15-year career in the media she has covered some of the most high- profile risk management stories including cyber breaches at Fortune 500 companies, product recalls, workplace violence and everything in between. Nicole and her team’s extensive industry knowledge and strategic guidance will help you focus on what is in your control to mitigate risk and minimize damage to your reputation. It’s all about prioritizing strategic planning to spot an issue, effectively manage it, and develop action plans to safely steer you through any situation before it damages your reputation. Nicole has developed and delivered bespoke reputation management, strategic, and media training for senior executives, board members, politicians, and celebrities.

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