Bad publicity is never welcome. But it's how you handle adverse publicity that could be the making - or breaking - of your business. Thinking it won't happen to you isn't an option. If you plan and prepare for a crisis you'll give yourself a much better chance of limiting the damage and staying in control of the situation. Simply being prepared for adverse publicity can help you stop a bad story becoming a terrible one.
If you find yourself in the spotlight, albeit for the wrong reasons, take the opportunity to show your business in the best possible light under the circumstances.
Complaints from customers, faulty products and accidents all make strong news stories - as do any crisis affecting your industry that could give your firm a bad name by association.
If your firm is getting critical coverage in the media, respond quickly, honestly and decisively. If you are in the wrong, it's vital to own up and apologise. Never say 'no comment' - it sends the message that you're in the wrong and suggests that you feel no remorse - and the press may keep digging for dirt. Face up to the situation and you can begin to restore the reputation of your business.
In a PR crisis, communication is the key to managing it. Keep the media, customers, your staff and suppliers informed. Tell your side of the story with a written statement and make sure the head of the business is available to talk to the press and others about what went wrong and what is being done about it.
Meanwhile, ensure that your employees do not talk to the press without permission and field enquiries from journalists to the right person.
Remember that bad publicity can offer a chance for your business to show how decent it is. If you apologise, make amends and explain how you're going to do better in future, you will find that in many cases the public will actually be very forgiving.
Planning and preparation can significantly reduce the chances of getting bad press. Staff training is essential - your employees are ambassadors for your firm. No matter what their job, any member of staff has the power to enhance or ruin the reputation of your business.
Make sure your staff understand the importance of customer service and are the living embodiment of your firm's positive brand values. Put in place procedures for handling customer complaints so that a small problem does not become a big headache. Research shows that customers who are happy with the way their complaint was handled are more likely to spread good word-of-mouth feedback.
After getting bad publicity you actively need to produce some positive PR. Now is the time to emphasise some positive stories, such as improved practices and community involvement. Encourage your staff to volunteer or support a charity and lead by example. At the same time, make sure you are doing business in the most honourable way and keeping your customers satisfied.
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