Sometimes negative press is unavoidable. Here's how to properly handle it when it happens to your business.
Sometimes negative press is unavoidable, no matter how many precautions you take. When this happens, it's important to respond in a timely, effective and positive manner. How you react and handle negative press can have a lasting (negative or positive) effect on your business.
Michellyn Miner, a Business.com community member, asked, "How would you handle a PR crisis?" This is an important question for business owners who have experienced negative press. We asked business owners, PR professionals and crisis managers to find an answer. Here's what they said.
1. Take a deep breath.
Before you do anything, take a deep breath. You're passionate about your business, and when bad press hits, you're probably angry or emotional. However, nothing good comes out of rash decisions.
"Oftentimes, especially as the owner of a small business, we are emotionally tied and very passionate about our business and feel an immediate need to defend ourselves," said Brian Lowe, CEO and founder of BML Public Relations. "Take a step back so you can start to think clearly and rationally about a proper reaction."
2. Reach out to your PR representative and get staff on same page.
Reach out to your PR representative or firm before you respond to any press or make a comment. They are trained to handle these sensitive situations with ease.
"If you have a public relations firm or representative, make them aware immediately," Lowe said. "Until you have received direction from your PR team, do not respond directly to the media outlet with a letter or email, or don't call the TV or radio station."
While it's ideal to have a PR professional on staff, sometimes it's not feasible to take on that extra cost. If you don't have a PR professional on payroll or work with an agency, someone from your company should be your spokesperson.
"If you don't have the funding to hire a PR person, appoint a company spokesperson and make sure everyone in the business knows who that person is," said John Goodman, owner of John Goodman PR. "He or she should handle all dealings with the press. The spokesperson should be able to handle media questions, pressing comments and scrutiny while staying calm."
Allan Dib, founder of Successwise, also recommends getting all your staff on the same page before responding to the press. "Depending on the severity of the matter, ensure that all requests for comment are funneled through a senior member of your team."
3. Acknowledge the mistake.
Once you have filled in your team and spokesperson or PR representative on the problems, address the mistake. If you're in the wrong, you need to acknowledge your mistake, mention what you learned, and say how you'll take this experience and grow as a business.
"When you discover a negative mention, owning your mistake will go much further than a defensive rebuttal," said Melanie King, director of public relations at Lendio. "Always look to the future and to providing solutions. You can do this by creating your own content or requesting a follow-up story that addresses the issue while offering ideas for improvement."
4. Continue to monitor the news and social media.
You're not done once you issue a comment or statement. You need to always monitor your reputation in the news and social media. You also need to take steps to ensure this doesn't happen again.
"In the digital age, reputation management drives small business – it's what differentiates you from the competition," King said. "If you're a small business owner, it's critical to pay attention to what's being said about your company, as one negative mention can spread quickly."
While it's important to respond to negative press the right way, there are steps you can take to help this process before the crisis hits, such as forming a crisis plan and always creating positive press.
"Generate as much positive press coverage as you can for your business from the get-go," King said. "Do this by building genuine relationships with members of the media and public in your area and your space. This way, when something negative does crop up, there's still plenty of positive messaging out there about your brand to counteract a damaging article or comment."
You should also meet with a public relations person or agency before there's a crisis, Goodman suggests. You don't have to hire them immediately, but it's good to know and trust a person in advance.