Handling bad publicity FAQs

Contributor - Peter Ibbetson


Handling bad publicity FAQsSeven FAQs people ask about handling bad publicity

  1. How do I handle bad publicity?
  2. How do I handle bad publicity on social media?
  3. How do I handle bad publicity in the local press?
  4. How do I handle bad publicity in the trade press?
  5. What do I do if my competitor is spreading rumours about my business?
  6. What do I do if my ex employee is spreading rumours about my business?
  7. How do I recover from bad PR using digital marketing?

1. How do I handle bad publicity?

Whether you agree with the bad publicity or not, always respond. If you don't, it allows people to assume that the bad publicity is correct. Worse still, it gives the impression that you don't care about the complaint.

Consider approaching the problem as you would a complaint. So listen fully to the person who is causing the bad publicity.

Ask questions in a caring manner, to establish the facts. Put yourself in their shoes. Apologise without blaming. Ask what an acceptable solution might be. Then try to solve the problems as quickly as possible.

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2. How do I handle bad publicity on social media?

If the complaint is justified, promptly apologise for - and deal with - the issue.

If the complaint is not justified, draft a response and show an independent person to ask their opinion. Often, this second person will be able to suggest a more positive, constructive wording.

Promptly apologise about the fact that the person had an issue, and explain the situation, but never get into an argument.

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3. How do I handle bad publicity in the local press?

If the media coverage is justified, acknowledge the complaint and address the issue. Remaining silent simply implies guilt.

But equally, if the negative coverage is unjustified, say so, offering your reasons.

As a check that you are being reasonable and your wording is positive and constructive, test your response with an independent person and ask for honest feedback.

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4. How do I handle bad publicity in the trade press?

Not responding to bad publicity in the trade press makes it look as though the criticism is justified.

Ideally get a third party to refute the negativity, such as a good customer who shares your view that the criticism is unfair.

For example, you might ask a customer to write an email to you, which you can then forward to the publication alongside your own response to the matter in question.

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5. What do I do if my competitor is spreading rumours about my business?

Any competitor spreading unjustified rumours that could have a detrimental effect on your business is potentially liable under the UK's libel and slander laws.

However, legal advice can be expensive. And the proof that you need, in terms of what has been said and how it has damaged your business, may be difficult to provide.

So one approach is to meet your competitor and address the problem directly.

If you also let your most trusted customers know what is going on, the news will usually trickle out to the rest of the industry. So the rumours may end up harming the competitor rather than you.

It is unlikely that involving a journalist will help matters. Journalists are after a story, and a public dispute like this between two businesses may make a great story - but not one that benefits either of the companies involved.

Your goal is to make the issue go away. Publicity rarely helps to achieve this.

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6. What do I do if my ex employee is spreading rumours about my business?

In practice there is usually little that one can do about a disgruntled ex-employee bad-mouthing your business to other people.

Their employment contract may cover confidentiality and prevent them from poaching your customers for a period of time, but spreading rumours is a different matter.

If the rumours are unjustified and have a detrimental effect on your business, the employee is potentially liable under the UK's slander and libel laws. But few employers would consider trying to sue in these circumstances.

Depending on your relationship with the ex-employee, a meeting to discuss the matter directly may be the best option.

Alternatively, your solicitor might suggest a strongly worded 'cease and desist' letter from their firm, implying that legal action will otherwise follow.

It is never a good idea to try and use the media to retaliate against an ex-employee. Indeed, the last thing you want is a story in the media.

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7. How do I recover from bad PR using digital marketing?

Nowadays when it comes to complaints and rumours, the key battleground is often social media.

There is no substitute for speed and honesty in looking to recover from bad PR. The key elements to include are acknowledgement, empathy, 'controlled correction', and a third-party testimonial.

Just be aware though that the same methods you use to get your positive message out can be used just as easily by those with a justifiable complaint, to add to the existing bad PR.

So don't overlook the option of simply remaining silent, and waiting for the bad PR to pass over. If the complainer's only objective is to wind you up, they may soon get bored and move on.

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Peter Ibbetson

A banker by training; an entrepreneur by heart; a visionary by head. His first career was in banking, rising through a range of roles to Head of Business Banking at NatWest, before trying his hand at a portfolio career. Being enticed back into the RBS Group to represent the SME side of the ban...