Too many cooks will always spoil your broth, and try as you might, teaching new tricks to old dogs is an entirely futile enterprise. However, in spite of the wisdom of some old adages, the idea that “All Publicity is good Publicity” can definitely be tossed into the “ignore” pile by anyone pursuing a serious career in PR. If you’re working for any substantial length of time in public relations, there will be occasions when you have to deal with bad press, so reputation management is a skill which you need to learn. There is no one-size-fits-all strategy, since bad press can come in all shapes and sizes, but these four pointers will help you to remain calm and give you time to focus on next steps …
1. Make sure key players are informed
No matter what the size of your company, or your client’s company, you should have a PR plan. This should include a crisis management section which will detail the procedures which are taken whenever there is a risk of bad press. Top item on the plan ought to be who needs to be kept informed. Typically, this will be all senior management, and often it will include all members on the communications / marketing team. If this is a lot of individuals, it might even be worth setting up an email group, so that when you do have a crisis you can alert everyone quickly. As press officer, it is your responsibility not only to inform them at the onset of a crisis, but also any key developments and also further press coverage as it occurs.
2. Ensure that employees direct journalist calls to the correct spokespeople
Depending on the number of employees and the amount of clout your company has, journalists may try a number of different methods to speak to an insider about what is going on. This could be sketchy, since other members of the team may not know the ins and outs of the story, or your official company line, and it is easy even for media trained personnel to be flustered by questions. As a part of your day to day strategy, every member of staff should be aware who the press officer is, so that they are able to field any press inquiries. However, when a crisis occurs, it is essential to remind everyone that media inquiries should be directed to the appropriate team member. Having said this, it is important that all members of staff are kept up to date with key developments in any crisis. A successful internal communications strategy will send out updates to all members of staff which give them the information they need.
3. Have a statement ready to go
If the phone starts ringing and emails are flying, even the most experienced of PROs can become flustered. That is why it is useful to have a written statement ready to go to media. The benefits of a written quote are twofold. Firstly, having a written documentation of all of the media you have spoken to will make it easier to track who you have been dealing with. This will be important when the crisis is over since you may want to let those people know some good news, and the journalists will appreciate being kept in the loop as developments happen. Secondly, it avoids a lengthy or difficult telephone conversation which may see you having to deal with awkward questions.
4. Balance it with some good PR
Here’s a maxim to believe in: “All Good Publicity is Good Publicity”. It’s not rocket science, and maybe you can think of it as the yin and yang of PR, but after you’ve had a crisis it’s a good idea to sit down and think about what is great about your company. Unearth the charity work that staff have been involved in, find a real life story about how your product has really made someone’s day, or if you’re really stuck, just write a press release about how the crisis has been resolved and what procedures have been put into place to protect you and your customers from a similar crisis. If you can get some senior spokespeople to lend their voice to this good news, then it is even better, as it gives more credibility to the story.
Whatever type of PR you are in, you will have to handle bad press at some point in your career. It can be unpleasant, although for some people, this type of reputation management can be one of the highlights of the job. Each case is different, and you learn as you go along, but by remembering those four points, you are well on the way to handling bad press in a professional way.