Bad publicity: how to limit damage to your reputation


Business newspaperThanks to the internet, bad press or negative feedback from disgruntled customers can spread rapidly to millions of people. However, there are plenty of things you can do to limit the damage

  1. Try to understand where the potential for bad publicity may lie in your business and do what you can to resolve issues before they become a problem. For example, this might involve sending poor quality products back to a supplier, introducing stricter health and safety procedures or dealing with unhappy staff.
  2. Be aware of the phenomenal speed at which information spreads, especially via social networking sites, and take quick action to counter bad publicity. For example, if a glitch in the software you market becomes apparent, don't wait for user complaints to spread virally but use online forums to alert them and explain what you are doing to tackle the problem.
  3. Don't be afraid to counteract 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 use your own website and social media presence to dispel misconceptions.
  4. To say you are sorry does not amount in law to an admission of guilt. However, it can show customers, suppliers and other stakeholders that you take your responsibilities seriously and defuse a situation before it gets out of hand.
  5. “No comments", usually implies you are hiding something. Designate one person who is authorised to speak to journalists and ensure all your staff are told that they should direct media enquiries to that person. You may want to consider some level of media training for them.
  6. Answer media questions fully and factually, offering background briefings where necessary. If there are reasons why this is not possible - for example, if you are asked to give confidential customer details or you are waiting for the outcome of an enquiry, explain why you are withholding information.
  7. At times you may feel it is better to offer a written statement. Ask what deadlines journalists face and try at least to offer a holding statement until a fuller explanation is ready.
  8. Understand the media's need for a story. You may be able to deflect bad publicity by pointing out a bigger story elsewhere. You could also counterbalance bad publicity by pointing out, for example, how many satisfied customers you have.
  9. Review all incidents and consider ways you could have acted differently which would have led to a better outcome.
  10. Finally, rebuild your firm's reputation by generating good PR - for example, through supporting a charity or promoting positive news stories. Build relations with journalists, so if there is a “next time" they will have some prior understanding of you and your business.

Cardinal rules

Do:

  • act speedily to confront and counteract bad publicity
  • turn to experts such as lawyers and PR professionals when necessary
  • learn from your mistakes

Don't:

  • ignore the power of individuals using social media to destroy reputations
  • be tempted to lie to journalists
  • assume it is best to keep a low profile after an incident