Tips for dealing with negative PR

Every Toronto PR expert will tell you reputation is one of the most valuable assets a business can have. Good public relations brings positive publicity and brand-building, while a negative issue not handled properly can have a devastating effect on your business.

What’s worse, the damage can take years to rectify. There are many ways your brand can take a hit, ranging from online rants and rumors to unfavourable media coverage, but the way to treat them is the same if you want to mitigate the damage they will cause.

Here are four tips to handle bad publicity:

Address the root of the problem. Every rumor or online tweetstorm has a source, which you need to address if you are to deal with the problem efficiently. When a competitor starts a rumor about your business or an angry customer is ranting online, localize the effort on them instead of putting out small fires all over the place by addressing retweets. Approach the person politely in a non-combative way. Offer facts if they are wrong and an apology if they are correct (more on this later). Basically you need to take a proactive approach to answer the negative narrative in a way that will quell it.

Admit When You’re Wrong. Acknowledging mistakes can go a long way. If the criticism stems from your own mistakes, admitting it is the only way to retain dignity and trust. Attempting to cover up or avoid responsibility will lead to distrust and resentment. A company that admits its own mistakes can be trusted to fix them, one that doesn’t will likely make those mistakes again.

Make Amends. When the blame is on you, the responsibility for fixing the problem is yours as well. If you go out of your way to make amends to your customers, they will feel you care about them. When one customer has a problem (late delivery, damaged goods, poor customer service, anything), hundreds of others are watching. Take the complaint for what it is - feedback - and use it as a means to grow and improve. It is better to lose some money now by issuing a full refund, than losing much more in sales later if this customer remains upset and keeps complaining. Moreover, the good PR that you will gain by dealing with the problem in a generous manner can be really beneficial.

Recruit Support. Speaking in your own defence is important, but having someone who is not affiliated with the brand speaks in your favor sends a powerful message. Enlist the voices of loyal, satisfied customers when you are dealing with bad PR and see it shrink into thin air.

For professional issues management counsel, contact PUNCH Canada Managing Partner Jeff Lake at jeff@punchcanada.com.