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How to Overcome Bad Publicity

Bad publicity has the potential to destroy your business. For example, if one of your company founders is involved in a drunk driving accident that hurts another person, or perhaps there’s an incident where someone who works for you says something offensive on Twitter, what do you do?

Is it possible to overcome bad publicity? It’s a question a lot of businesses are asking in particular right now, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A lot of companies are facing questions over how they handled the outbreak, especially in the early days.

Cruise lines are one example, but airlines are coming under scrutiny for not enforcing social distancing on flights, meatpacking plants are shuttering because of outbreaks, and restaurants are being outed on social media for not following social distancing protocols.

Whether or not it’s possible to overcome bad publicity depends somewhat on the situation, but also how it’s handled in the days following the incident.

Chipotle is an example. Several years ago, they had major outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. The extremely popular brand did take a hit, but they were, at least to this point, able to overcome.

While the specifics of the situation can vary, the following are some things to keep in mind to combat bad publicity, whether your business is small or large.

Be Realistic

You need to think about how truly damaging the crisis situation is that your business is facing.

You need to be realistic about the potential to reboot public perception, and you should set goals and metrics along the way that are in-line with the severity of the situation you’re facing.

For example, if your reputation is in jeopardy because someone says they got coronavirus at your business, you’re facing a different situation than if you committed a crime, and especially a crime that hurt someone.

As you’re starting to pick up the pieces and repair the damage, face the hard truths by assessing how much damage might have been done.

Go online and look at search results to see what is showing up. The damage might not be as bad as you initially think it is. You also run the risk of creating more publicity surrounding the negative situation if you do more than is necessary.  

Be objective as you assess the situation, and try your best to remain composed and unemotional, as challenging as that may be. If you’re too emotional, it’s going to be tough to think logically as you work your way out of the situation.

Be Careful About Wading into Internet Wars

Even small businesses are increasingly affected by online reviews, and sometimes things can turn heated or even brutal. Everyone can express their opinions online, and often anonymously.

If your business if facing bad publicity, you might find that people go online to share their opinions, and those opinions may not be favorable. Some people may be looking to cause problems.

Don’t try to clear up your reputation by engaging in these online battles. The only time you should respond to online criticism is if it’s part of a legitimate review.

Otherwise, if you’re jumping into these conversations to salvage your business reputation, you may be doing more harm than good. The harm you do might not be something you can come back from, so skip trying.

Plan a Media Strategy

There is a lot that goes into appropriately responding to a crisis creating bad publicity for your business. It’s not just an issue of how to respond but also where to respond, and when. If you respond too quickly, emotions may still be running high. If you wait too long, you may not be able to recover.

There was a recent example of timing. A well-known fashion and lifestyle influencer, Arielle Charnas, was diagnosed with coronavirus early on the pandemic. Charnas’ husband and nanny subsequently were diagnosed.

The family left Manhattan to shelter in the Hamptons, and Charnas, used to capturing every moment of her life for her blog and Instagram followers, took videos of herself walking in her Hamptons neighborhood and even of the family’s nanny continuing to care for their children.

Charnas’ career relies on constant exposure, but she did go off social media for a few weeks. It calmed some of the heated emotions, and then she returned to posting after issuing an apology.

Giving it a few weeks did seem to help, particularly since people were angry about the handling of her own case of coronavirus, but letting a few weeks pass also allowed people to learn more about the virus. When the situation first occurred,  no one knew anything and that sense of fear was likely leading people to respond more negatively to Charnas.

Sometimes crisis management advice will indicate you should get out there are soon as possible, so people don’t think you’re hiding, but that approach doesn’t work for every situation.

When you’re planning a media strategy, it needs to cohesive. If you need to take a little extra time to get everyone on the same page and to have a concrete plan, then take it. That’s better than rushing and making things even worse.

Communicate with Your Employees

Don’t forget your employees as you’re dealing with a crisis. First, you want your employees to feel like they’re in the loop, even if the situation is negative.

You also want your employees to serve as positive brand ambassadors as much as is possible.

Also, your employees may have creative ideas for you to combat negative publicity that you wouldn’t think about, especially since they might have the most direct contact with your customers.

Finally, respond with transparency if you’re caught off guard. It’s difficult to be transparent because it’s scary but trying to hide certain aspects of a situation isn’t likely to make it any better. We live in an age of technology and information that shows us things aren’t likely to stay hidden for long.

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