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How to handle bad publicity

You may know the old saying “There is no such thing as bad publicity.” Well, maybe at some point in time this was true, but it definitely is not true today. With the pace information travels through the internet and social media, bad news travels fast and very wide. It can take on a feverish pitch, and, depending on the actual reason you are receiving this bad publicity, it can completely ruin a business or career in an instant.

  • Have you or your company become a trending hashtag (#) on Twitter?
  • Are people you never met, commenting on your Instagam page?
  • Or, has someone started a meme with you as the star?

So, what do you do? How can you stem the onslaught? Here are some fundamental tips that can be useful in all types of situations.

  • Assess the Situation: Take a step back and look at the damage. Is your crisis a small fender bender or a multi-car pileup? If your bad publicity is confined to a small group, it may be better to focus on simply responding to them directly as opposed to opening up your issues for the world to see. If your assessment seems like the public could hear about your issue, be proactive and keep moving through these tips—better to be safe than to have a small issue come back to bite you.
  • Admit it: You made a mistake. People are talking. It is negative. Now is not the time for pride. Admit your mistake. People understand and can forgive a mistake; they won’t forgive, nor will they forget if you attempt to cover up the mistake. You run the risk of losing trust, something that is very difficult to get back.
  • Apologize and move on: You must make sure the apology is sincere and absolutely no wavering. If you are speaking directly to the press, plan your thoughts and talking points ahead of time. It is also very important to keep your cool and to not engage with the negative onslaught. No one can move past the mistake if you re-engage with your aggressors. If you are NOT going to apologize, you may consider not engaging at all.
  • Fix the problem: Make a commitment to correct the issue. Going above and beyond to fix the problem makes people feel like you and/or your company cares about them. This is also an opportunity to turn your negative into a positive with strategic PR focused on honest corporate responsibility. Do not try to omit the mistakes of your past, but move forward with real change.
  • Share your lessons: Never miss out on the opportunity to learn from the mistake. The public is far less forgiving when you’ve had this problem before and you let it happen again. Publicity nightmares also serve as reminders to review crisis communications plan. If you don’t have a plan in place for social media and digital news disasters, now is the time to act before you become the meme of the day.

Just remember, running from a problem will not solve it. Act quickly and hopefully, in the 24-hour news cycle world we live in, something else will catch the public’s attention and move on.

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