Dealing with bad publicity - checklist

The word 'reputation' trampled in the mud

As a business owner, you should always be prepared to deal with bad publicity and the effects it can have on your business. Follow these steps to minimise reputational damage and get things back on an even keel

  • Assess where there is potential for bad publicity within your business and do what you can to resolve issues before they become a problem - for example by returning poor quality products to a supplier, introducing stricter health and safety procedures or speaking to unhappy staff.
  • Give staff the authority and tools to deal with minor complaints and issues before they have the chance to escalate.
  • Be aware of the phenomenal speed at which information spreads, especially via social networking sites, and take quick action to counter bad news.
  • Monitor your website, social network profiles and any channels you have set up to allow customers to give feedback.
  • Remember you will not be the first to face trouble. Improve your strategy by looking to other companies who have successfully handled crises.
  • Keep people informed - staying silent encourages gossip and speculation, so proactively keep your employees, customers and suppliers up to date.
  • Counter inaccuracies. For example, if you are aware of a Twitter campaign against you, tweet your version of the story. Contact editors if incorrect information has been published and ask politely for a public retraction. Also use your own website and social channels to dispel misconceptions.
  • Be prepared to say you are sorry. This does not amount to an admission of guilt, but will demonstrate that you take your responsibilities seriously. It can also defuse a situation before it gets out of hand.
  • 'No comment' implies you are hiding something. Designate a spokesperson and ensure all of your staff knows that they should direct media enquiries to that person. This should be somebody who can stay cool under pressure and handle possibly awkward questions.
  • Offer a written statement if appropriate. Ask what deadlines journalists need to meet, and try to offer at least a holding statement until a fuller explanation is ready.
  • Understand the media's need for a story. You may be able to deflect bad publicity by pointing out a bigger story elsewhere.
  • Consider hiring a PR firm. In the case of true disaster - eg a faulty product that could be dangerous, an employee lawsuit, or even a fatality - you will need professional help.
  • When the dust has settled, review what has happened and consider ways you could have acted differently which would have led to a better outcome.
  • Rebuild your firm's reputation by generating good PR - for example, through supporting charity or doing good work in your community. Build relations with journalists, so if there is a 'next time' they will have some prior understanding of you and your business.

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