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Publicity Gone Bad

Transparency in Surviving Negative PR

Whether it’s an inappropriate social media post, an employee gone wild, or a poor review, there are ways to weather that PR storm.

There’s a saying, “Life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how you react to it.” The same is true when dealing with a situation gone awry in the business world.

Consider your brand’s social media accounts– a public blunder can happen in an instant. Of course, you should always double-check your content before posting it online, but mistakes happen. If a tarnishing tweet is released, you’ll want to act fast to remove it. However, no matter how quickly you hit delete, there’s a chance someone has already taken a screen shot of it… Now it’s there forever.

So how do you fix it?

Step One: Give Yourself Some Time to Breathe

In a PR crisis, there is never room to say, “No comment.”  That’s like an admission of guilt; it says that you have something to hide. Silence isn’t effective either, so don’t ever think you can pretend it didn’t happen. It did… and someone somewhere has proof of it.

The media will want to talk to you as soon as possible, so they have a story for the 5 o’clock news. They will call you, email you, and even drop by with a camera crew. Do not let them pressure you to react too quickly. Publishing profanities or insincere remarks only digs a deeper hole. Make sure you have taken sufficient time to analyze your situation. Take control.

If you’re not prepared to comment, let the media know that you are aware of the situation. Specify that you are currently working on a statement and that they can expect it within 24 hours– or sooner if possible. By giving yourself a little breathing room to work on your strategy, you may even be able to turn your crisis into an opportunity.

Step Two: Take Accountability

As a business owner, you are ultimately responsible for the posts sent out by your brand’s social media accounts. If an employee is the culprit, it is your business’ reputation that’s on the line. As a result, solving this dilemma isn’t as simple as reprimanding or firing the employee.

Your company will be under scrutiny for hiring the employee in the first place. Furthermore, company politics can complicate the situation. What if everyone loves that employee and letting that person go is a hard decision? What if that person acted totally out of character? Suddenly, if your business doesn’t have a crisis communications plan, you can find yourself tied up in meetings for days, trying to decide the next course of action.

At this stage, you may be tempted to send out a brief, non-specific apology, such as, “We are sorry for the inappropriate post that was sent out. That employee has been reprimanded.” Resist the urge! Why? Basically, what you’re saying is, “We don’t pay attention to what our employees send out and that person will get a slap on the wrist.”

Before jumping on social media to issue ineffective blanket statements, find out the whole story. Investigate how your company’s actions made people feel. Don’t sweep the issue under the rug. Instead, take it as a learning opportunity so your company can do better in the future.

For example, you may find that the negative response was due to a misunderstanding. The solution, in this case, would be a follow-up explanation. Consider ways to address it head on, and get input from your team.

As head of your company, are you comfortable speaking in public? If you’re a nervous talker, you may overshare and keep the story living longer. In this scenario, it’s better to designate a spokesperson to issue an official statement.

One of the goals of an official statement is to change the tone of the story and, hopefully, take the focus off your company. First and foremost, be as honest as possible about the situation. Make it clear and concise regarding the actions you and your company will take. For example:

ABC Company has been made aware of the actions of our employee. However, that employee was not on company time, nor was this employee in a company facility. We do not condone this type of behaviour. ABC Company wants to assure the public that we give everyone the respect they deserve. Due to the nature of the situation, we have given the employee a leave absence to work things out.

Signed, President ABC Company. 

In summary, be sensitive to the situation, humanize the situation and state your accountability in the situation.

Bad publicity is certainly unwelcome. But if we go back to the rule that life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react, you soon come to realize that it’s how you handle the bad PR that will make or break your business.

In the end, you hope to capture the appropriate tone in your official statement. That it will bring a positive light back onto your company. Always remember that transparency, accountability, and responsibility will be your redeeming qualities in a situation gone awry.

Want to learn more?  Check out how the American Red Cross handled a recent twitter faux pas with head-on acknowledgement and a little good humour.  For even more examples of brands gone awry, check out this compilation found on linkdex.

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About the Author - Christina Rowsell
Christina Rowsell is a media relation’s consultant with 22 years’ experience as a radio host. Along the way, Christina has also hosted a syndicated radio show across Canada, hosted locally produced television, and was the editor-in-chief of Brighter Business Empower Magazine and BlogTalk Radio show. Christina graduated from BCIT in 1995 with a diploma is Broadcast Communications and has a PR Certificate from Mount Royal University. Christina is also a current member of the Canadian Public Relations Society and Women in Communications and Technology in Canada.