How to Handle Negative Press About Your SMB

By business.com editorial staff,
business.com writer
| Updated
Jun 17, 2020
Image Credit: BongkarnThanyakij / Getty Images

A business.com community member asked how to handle a PR crisis. We found answers.

  • While it may be impossible to avoid the press, any business must come up with ways to handle negative press.
  • Negative press has the ability to bring down businesses or lead to extreme losses.
  • It is useful to have public relations staff to manage how your company relates to the public.

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 to and handle negative press can have a lasting effect on your business, whether that's negative or positive. 

Michellyn Miner, a business.com community member, asked, "How would you handle a PR crisis?" This is an important question, as many business owners 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 minute to breathe. 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 your 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 your business was in the wrong, you need to own up to your mistake, mention what you learned, and say how you'll use this experience to 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 always need to 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 with 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 PR 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.

5. Be honest and upfront.

It is essential to relay honest information to the public. Make a public apology if it's your fault. The public apology could be in the form of a statement or video. Where necessary, make compensation and review your policies to see how you could prevent the problem from recurring. This will all help restore your public image.

6. Create a positive message.

Create a positive image detailing the positive aspects of your business. This will shift your audience's mindset to dwell on the positive things you have done as opposed to the mistakes. Create a blog indicating your positive achievements, and focus on driving traffic to it. You can also create a positive media campaign and positive content through videos and try to win as many clients as possible.

7. Choose an appropriate response.

Do not be hasty in your response to negative press. Involve your team in helping you come up with an appropriate response. Your best response largely depends on the nature of the negative information you're dealing with. When you do decide on a public response, have only one or a few people speak on behalf of the company. This will prevent you from issuing conflicting views to the public. Remember to be sensible and calm in all your responses.

8. Turn your existing customers into brand ambassadors.

Recruit your loyal clients to act as brand ambassadors for your company. The public is more receptive to remarks from fellow customers than brands. Include their positive reviews in your advertising and social media content. As you do so, continue to ensure that your messaging is timely and connects with your audience.

9. Get involved in community events.

Taking part in community events can improve a brand's public image. If you show that you care about your community and social causes, the public is likely to see you in a more positive light again.

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff
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