As the entrepreneur of a startup, you’re excited to see any mention of your brand. It’s a validation of the work you’ve done so far, and represents a possibility for further growth in terms of reputation, visibility, and traffic (not to mention it serves as a great ego boost). In the early days, you’ll receive attention merely for starting up, but as you start to grow, you’ll start getting different kinds of attention, from many different sources. Eventually, no matter how hard you try, you’re going to encounter some bad press, and it’s going to disrupt your efforts.
It might be a bad review of your product. It might be a disgruntled customer posting a rant about your company. It might even be a news source, or a social media blowup pointing a finger at a mistake you made as an organization. Whether or not what happened was your fault is somewhat inconsequential at this point; people are reading negative things about your company, and it’s negatively impacting your brand.
What can you do at this point?
To start, remain calm. You may feel angry at the person who wrote the piece, or frustrated with your team for making a mistake, but the last thing you want is for your emotions to turn into impatience. If you lash out, in any way, it could end up making the damage worse. For example, if you start an argument with the journalist who published the initial piece, you could end up appearing irrational, lending credence to the original criticism and drawing more attention to the piece. Anything other than a calm demeanor will also set a bad example for your team, so keep that in mind as well.
Evaluate the Impact
Next, try to take an objective measure of the impact this bad press is going to have. Is this a one-time feature in your local newspaper that’s tucked into the back pages? Or is this a major headline that’s been picked up by multiple national sources? Does it dabble in some light criticisms, or is it a scathing and unapologetically vindictive bad review of your brand? If there isn’t much impact, you may be taking the negativity too personally, but if it is significant, you’ll need to take action. Ask for an outsider’s perspective if you’re too close to the problem.
Journalists are fallible. Everyday customers even more so. Almost every publisher you find will offer open opportunities for you to submit corrections to published material. If you find that there are incorrect facts or dubious information in a given piece, your first step is to correct that information. When you do so, do it in a logical, point-by-point fashion, and remain polite. This will expedite the process and ensure that all appropriate corrections are made.
Decide on a Response
Next, it’s probably a good idea to issue a public response about the matter, depending on the severity of the problem. You have a few major options here:
- Don’t respond at all. If the bad press is from an unaccredited source, or if it’s relatively minor in nature, your best bet is to not issue a response. This may avoid drawing more attention to the subject, and may make the incident seem smaller (as if beneath your notice).
- Offer a rebuttal. This is a good option if the bad press is making an unfounded accusation about your company. After trying to correct any mistakes, you can offer a counterargument of your own to defend your brand in the eyes of your customers and the general public. Don’t resort to attacks here; keep it civil and polite.
- Apologize. If your brand has done some wrong, the best course of action is to apologize. Don’t try to cover up your mistakes; this will only make things worse. Instead, admit what happened, and offer a simple apology to your readers (along with a potential form of conversation).
- Explain. If your bad press tells only part of the story, this is your chance to tell the full version. Supplement new details, explain your side of things, or provide an alternative perspective on the situation. When you issue this response, be sure to include it as a blog post, as an email blast, as posts on your various social media profiles, and in any other significant channels you can think of. The more thorough you are, the better.
If the incident is significant enough, you’ll probably receive queries about it, from members of the public or by prospective clients and customers. As part of your ongoing management of bad press, your best policy is to be transparent. Acknowledge the source of bad press, admit to any mistakes you may have made, and remain calm and objective in your discussion. Accusations, frustrations, lies, and deflections are only going to weaken your reputation.
Bad press is never fun, but it is inevitable, and how you choose to handle it when it comes up can mean the difference between a positive spin on a bad situation and a needless escalation of damage to your brand. Take measured steps, keep the negative effects in perspective, and remember, very few instances of bad press are an immediate death sentence. Take the steps you can to mitigate the damage, but most importantly, move on before you end up doing more harm to your brand.
Anna Johansson is the founder and CEO of Johansson Consulting where she works with businesses to create marketing and PR campaigns.