Bad publicity is never welcome. But it's how you handle it that could be the making - or breaking - of your business.
Thinking that bad publicity won't happen to you isn't an option. If you plan and prepare for it, 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 prevent a bad story from becoming a terrible one.
If you find yourself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons, take the opportunity to show your business in the best possible light under the circumstances.
Managing bad publicity
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 being criticised in the media online, respond quickly, honestly and decisively. If you are at fault, own up and apologise. Never say 'no comment' - it sends out 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 your reputation.
Communication is the key to managing a PR crisis. Keep the media, customers, your staff and suppliers informed. Tell your side of the story with written statements 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 employees do not talk to the press without permission and direct enquiries from journalists to the right person.
Remember, 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. In many cases, the public can be very forgiving.
Preventing bad press coverage
Planning and sound 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 role, 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 embody your firm's positive brand values. Put in place procedures for handling customer complaints so that a small issue does not become a big problem. Research shows that customers who are happy with the way their complaint was handled are more likely to give word-of-mouth recommendations.
What to do after a PR crisis
After getting bad publicity you need to produce positive PR. 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.