Negative publicity

Focus on your signal to noise ratio  

No matter how hard you try to please your consumers, dealing with a bad review or negative comment is par for the course when you’ve been around for a while or your brand name is gaining traction. And although it may feel like a devastating setback at first, it’s important to keep in mind that most companies (from fledgling to well known) go through the same thing from time-to-time. How you deal with the negative publicity as a company, however, will most likely determine what happens after the bad review is out there – and could mean the difference between whether your company lasts through the controversy or not.

We spoke with two industry experts to get their top advice for dealing with negative publicity. Here’s what they recommend you do (and don’t do) to smooth things over as soon as possible.

  1. Always say you’re sorry. Admitting that a problem occurred and apologizing for it can go a long way in resolving conflict, says David Margulies, president of The Margulies Communications Group. “Sometimes just the acknowledgement that someone complained and was heard is enough,” he said.
  1. Never say ‘no comment’. Not commenting and hoping the attention will disappear can actually make matters worse because the story may drag on, says Joan Stewart, publicity expert and founder of PR firm The Publicity Hound. “People who have nothing to lose can comment on your bad news story, with no repercussions,” she says. “Even if you aren’t guilty, not commenting suggests otherwise.”
  1. Fix the problem – and tout the fix. The most overlooked strategy when it comes to dealing with negative press is to actually ensure that the issue never happens again, says Margulies. “A huge part of our practice is showing people how to resolve issues fairly so that they don’t get to the point that people post them publically,” Margulies said. If, however, the damage has been done and the negative comment has been posted, Margulies suggests providing closure. “In other words, show convincingly that the issue is resolved or in the past,” he said. “Maybe the restaurant that got bad reviews hired a new chef or changed its policies. Perhaps a product has been redesigned in response to customer concerns.” Whatever change you made, boast about it, and boast loudly.
  1. Take Control. Use whatever method you can to explain your position and invite questions from your customers. Then, if you do get questions, respond to every one of them. “This is one more very important reason why you should be blogging,” says Stewart. “It’s your property, your platform, and you have full control over it. Lead people to the blog post from your other social media accounts.”
  1. Do your research. Online searches should be able to help you determine where bad press is coming from. Then you can connect individually with those reporters, bloggers, freelancers or whomever else to give your side of the story, says Stewart. Take the time to comment on any blogs you find with negative press, too.
  1. Move on. After you’ve done your due diligence to respond to negative press and to alleviate any worries your clientele may have, it’s time to work towards pushing that negative press down in search results online. (In fact, some research has shown that 93% of people don’t go past the first page of a search, so there really is merit in doing this.) “Or you could hire a brand management or SEO expert to do this for you,” says Stewart. If you prefer the DIY approach, though, you’ll need to create more content that is more relevant and/or compelling when it comes to Google search engines than what’s currently available, which will push your new content to the top and the bad press further down in the results.

With an abundance of tact, some ingenuity and a little hard work, your company will soon be touting its latest and greatest new initiatives, and those bad comments will have long been forgotten.