Though it has been said that there is no such thing as bad press, there is little doubt that many organizations that have been on the receiving end of the bad public relations (PR) would disagree. Rightly so, since negative press, aka, "PR nightmares" can hit business owners where it hurts most—right in the pocketbook.
With that in mind, we can all learn something from companies that have managed to take bad press and work through it, perhaps even spinning it so that the public views the company in a more positive light.
- Companies suffering from a pr crisis can take different steps to mitigate the fall-out, including owning up to its mistakes.
- The rise of the internet has accelerated how fast bad pr can travel.
- Having a crisis management plan in place is important for most mid-to-large companies.
1. Own Up
First and foremost, companies should own up when the negative press is warranted because ignoring the problem is definitely not going to make it go away. In 2014, Victoria's Secret ran an ad campaign entitled the "Perfect Body" with slim models wearing its underwear.
The campaign's backlash was swift and furious, with calls for boycotts on the brand and over 30,000 signatures asking the company to remove this campaign. The company pivoted and rebranded the campaign "A Body for Every Body," acknowledging that the words "perfect body" could negatively impact women with low self-esteem and eating disorders.
Owning up shows that the company is being honest and forthcoming with the public, which ultimately helps the company to restore respect in the public's opinion. Keep in mind that a half-hearted apology—even just a hint of insincerity—can further deleterious the organization's public image, not to mention its stock price.
2. Make Good
Beyond simple accountability, companies need to show a commitment to repairing negative fallouts. It's even better when a company makes good on their actions without legislated to do so since this shows a corporate or social conscience on the part of the organization.
This is also important with manufacturers that have later found that some aspect of a product is defective. Offering a recall to ensure public safety results in the public retaining faith in the company's goodwill and its desire to be regarded as honest and concerned about the public.
3. Stick It Out
Nothing is worse than when a person or organization makes all kinds of inflated promises but never actually follows through with them. Companies need to stay the course once a commitment has been made to repair faults, but that also means that organizations must be realistic and honest when making promises of what can be done to make things right.
In 2018, Nike ran an ad supporting football player Colin Kaepernick, the football player who protested racial injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem. There was a negative backlash, including Donald Trump, who was president at the time, and some of his supporters, who felt it was unpatriotic not to stand. Nike ignored the negative backlash and supported Kaepernick's actions, and continued to run the ads. The campaign was a success, and Nike supported an important social cause.
Making good with the public is extremely important for pharmaceutical companies or car manufacturers since these companies produce products that society really relies on to be safe.
4. Promote Effective Communication
Once an organization has owned up to a fault, communication should continue. Companies should allow the public to know exactly what is being done to remedy the situation, even once the initial panic has died down. The more the public is aware of what lengths an organization is going to, the more likely the organization will return to public favor, although this can be tricky.
Companies need to be mindful that no communication feels contrived. This is why it's often best that reviews and commentaries are made by "real people" who are not seen as biased and in favor of the company being represented. Any advertising campaign is done once the company has started to regain momentum in the public's eye.
Organizations need to think like consumers. How will consumers realistically find the intended information? Companies must target consumers appropriately, whether through television commercials, online advertising, press releases, participation in media interviews, publicly responding to negative reviews, or commentary on websites that allow consumers to voice their opinions.
5. Be Creative
A little creativity or a sense of humor can go a long way when dealing with negative PR. In today's digital world, word of mouth can travel quickly as people take to social media and various other forums for spreading public opinion. Some companies have almost adopted an "if you can't beat them, join them" mentality when dealing with negative reviews.
One pizza shop in San Francisco actually printed some of the negative comments posted about the restaurant on T-shirts worn by its wait staff. One of these T-shirts boasted the not-so-appetizing statement: "The pizza was soooo greasy. I'm assuming this was in part due to the pig fat." Now that's definitely having a sense of humor about your organization's negative PR.
6. Fight for Your Right
When all else fails, fight. This is especially true when the statements made about an organization are not true. Think of Taco Bell and how the composition of the meat products used in the menu offerings recently came into question amid a lawsuit claiming the company was mislabeling products.
Taco Bell stood its ground and denied all of the damaging claims, even going so far as to file a countersuit. It then allowed consumers to come in and sample a taco for free to check out the quality for themselves. This also came with the launch of an advertising campaign to get the message out that the lawsuit's claims were incorrect. The result? The suit filed against Taco Bell was dropped.
The Bottom Line
One of the most readily available measures that organizations can employ to either avoid or reduce negative publicity is to aim for transparency. The more the public knows about how a company operates, the less likely a consumer or journalist will have any reason to go looking for dirt. This is not to say that all companies with ethical business practices will thrive or that all companies with questionable business practices will fail. It just helps along the way if the public feels that a company isn't doing something questionable.
In our fickle society, opinions change, the news is forgotten, and the next big scandal might take the public's mind off an organization's mishaps. And keep in mind that no organization is ever going to please everybody all of the time. Still, the way that the general public feels about an organization's PR disasters is ultimately determined by how the organization reacts to the allegations that have been made—true or otherwise.