The old adage states that all publicity is good publicity, and for some people who thrive on controversy, this may prove true. Public figures like Kanye West and Miley Cyrus built their brands on being the center of controversy, and can thrive on any headline – good or bad. But for politicians, government organizations, and most corporations, the opposite is true.
Nevertheless, the very best PR specialists know how to turn even the worst situations into an opportunity for good publicity. This is where the fine art of spinning comes in play. When PR experts must twist the story a bit – and in essence rebrand it – to show the brand’s side of the story.
How to Handle Negative PR and Bad Publicity
When a brand suffers from negative publicity, PR specialists are usually called in to clean up the mess. This involves not just handling the media, but also doing some damage control internally to keep all key stakeholders on board.
The first step in handling negative public relations begins before the crisis happens, and it involves anticipating crises in the first place. Many companies believe as long as they mind their Ps and Qs, nothing can go wrong. However, they cannot control every move employees make, and as with any work involving human beings, mistakes happen.
The second step calls for brands and their PR specialists to identify key stakeholders. This includes not just shareholders and board members, or even customers, but also employees. In fact, employees represent one of the most important set of stakeholders as each employee represents the company, and will have something to say outside of work, possibly affecting the company brand – especially in the midst of a crisis.
Next, specialists must craft a “holding message” to keep the masses at bay for some time. PR specialists should consider the client’s desires and the way forward when crafting this message, but clients must trust these specialists know how to best handle the situation. Holding statements may read as something like:
We are aware of the incident and have launched a full investigation into the matter. Please bear with us while we gather the necessary information.
The fourth step entails preparing a crisis communications team. At this point, PR specialists must identify and train the executives, managers, or disgraced employee who must speak to the public at some point. PR specialists can hold off the media for only so long, before the public demands to hear a statement from the “horse’s mouth.” This is often where spun stories are disseminated to change public opinion of what happened and why.
Finally, the brand and its specialists must establish systems for monitoring the situation and delivering notifications or updates to the public. One brand who did this exceptionally well is Chipotle while it suffered from the e-Coli outbreak in multiple fast-food chains. At the time, the fast food chain dedicated a complete web page delivering updates. The same link now redirects you to their new rigorous health standards.
After the ruckus has passed, of course, brand managers and PR specialists need to analyze what happened, work on how to prevent it in the future, and fine-tune their crisis management plan. They should also work to distribute positive images of the company to further wash away the negative headlines that might pop up in searches.
While the 24/7 news cycle can present a challenge during already difficult times, the one benefit it brings is people move to the next big crisis soon enough.