Recently, companies like Uber, Thinx, Pepsi and United Airlines have been getting a bad rap. Is it because they are bad companies? That depends on whom you ask. Is it because nobody is using their services? No. If anything, it’s the opposite. These transformational companies have changed how consumers travel, what they choose to drink and how women manage their period (yes, we said it -- deal with it). But, even with such accolades, controlling perception and protecting your brand in a world where anyone has the ability to put their opinion and videos online to reach millions is harder than ever.
As you’ve probably noticed, how a company reacts to bad press can be more important than what the initial mistake/crime/misstep was itself. Since this can happen more often than not and is sometimes out of your control, here are some chronological actionable steps for when your company finds itself in a bad news cycle:
Know what’s being talked about.
Do your research. Anticipate the hard questions you're going to be asked and how your answers could tie into current events. Yes, you may be getting bashed in the press, but take the time to see what else is going on in the news. Avoid tone-deaf, knee-jerk reactions. We’ve seen this before: Companies taking little regard for cultural appropriation, gender, race, sexuality, politics and other issues at the forefront of the public’s mind. Have a team that will be candid with you about these sensitivities. It will only be to your benefit, to know what is going on around you, when asked to comment. If it appears as if you are operating in a vacuum, you leave yourself subject to criticism.
Tell the truth.
Recently, Andrea had a client media issue (with her PR Firm, DialedPR). At the risk of losing the opportunity, she was very transparent with the reporter about the faux pas and what had occurred to make it a sticky situation. The reporter appreciated her candor so much that he said he would always open her future emails and consider covering anyone she represented, because he valued transparency and honesty. PR has it’s misconceptions of being all about spin, but there is nothing more valuable to your brand than transparency. Covering something up will kill you faster than the crime itself. At the heart of any good relationship (personal or business) is good character and ethics. Maintaining this throughout the process is crucial to establishing trust with anyone, including the media.
Prepare what you want to say.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know what potential questions you’re going to get asked. Prepare your points ahead of time. Don’t try and wing it. You always want to be able to answer “Why?” For example: “Why is this important? Why are you doing this now? Why is this relevant?” If you are being compared to a competitor, make sure you can highlight where you differ. The more you sound unsure or beat around the bush, the less credible you look.
Especially with digital media and social platforms, it’s getting close to impossible to stay ahead of a story -- especially when the story is bad. News, good or bad, spreads. Reporters recognize this as well and want to be able to report their content in a timely manner. Often times, they are trying to beat other media outlets to the punch. Bottom line, make sure you are available to them and can move quickly with them. The longer you make reporters wait for an email response or call back, the more likely you are to lose your chance to tell your story.
Follow up with the media.
After this is over, if you’ve kept your head down, stayed calm and made yourself accessible to media -- you will have new media contacts. It’s in your best interest to continue following what they write, who they are, where they are based, etc. Since there is already a relationship intact, chances are higher that they may be willing to work with you on a more positive story down the road. Give them a follow on Twitter, comment on their articles in the “comment” section and better yet, share their content.
It’s a tough day when this happens, but these steps can at least point you in the right direction. If things really start to escalate and you find that your DIY tactics aren’t doing the trick, there are PR firms that specialize solely in crisis communications. A quick Google search will get you results, or be proactive and start asking around now.
For the solopreneur, business owner and early stage entrepreneur, usually simplicity is key. One way to keep things simple is to make sure you are clear on what you stand for and what you have to say on certain topics. When you have this clarity, it’s easier to stay on track when answering questions.
#protip: One way to truly control your message is through contributed content, where you are publishing your own thoughts and opinions!Good luck!