How to Handle Negative Publicity

However hard you try there is likely to come a time when your business attracts some negative publicity. How you choose to deal with this unwanted attention if and when it arises can make all the difference in how severely it impacts your company and its reputation in the end.

There are three ways most people react to negative publicity:

  1. Immediately go on the offensive and react in an equally negative way (sue them, rant and rave, call people liars or cheats)
  2. Ignore it and hope it will go away
  3. Confront the source of the negative publicity and do everything possible to come up with a positive resolution to the issue

Which one do you believe will be most effective? Here are examples of each scenario for you to consider:

Go on the Offensive — Imagine someone posted something negative about your company on the internet; a bad review of your product or a nasty message on a social media board. Not so long ago this scenario cropped up the news. A woman in Chicago posted a negative comment about her landlord on Twitter. Someone at the company decided to try to file a $50,000 lawsuit against her for defamation. They are unlikely to be successful and all of the publicity the story generated (it made the front page of the Wall Street Journal) has done far more to harm the reputation of the real estate management company than their tenant’s single 140 character Tweet could ever have done.

Ignore It — For this example, we can look to no other than the President of the United States himself. When he first came to office a story began to circulate that Barack Obama was not a natural born American citizen at all and that he had in fact been born in Kenya which, had the story been true, would have meant constitutionally he could not hold the office of President.

Obama and his aides chose to ignore the story, thinking it so ridiculous that no one would ever believe it. Nevertheless, some people did and the rumor grew. Eventually the President had to post a copy of his birth certificate online to prove he really was born in Honolulu. This was a little too late however as the number of people who actually believe the born in Africa story to be true became quite a few more than the one or two who stated the rumor and they are apparently still unconvinced.

How does this relate to your business? It is known as the snowball effect. A single customer makes a negative comment about your business, but they tell someone else, who in turn tells three other people. If you do not address the situation as soon as it arises, you could potentially lose a lot of clients or customers.

Confront the Situation Head On — A man calls up a well-known online store’s customer service line upset because the shoes he ordered from them do not fit. In fact, he is irate, even though he was actually the person who placed the order and chose the wrong size. This is a company though whose call center employees are not bound by too many rules or scripts to follow. The main rule is make the customer happy.

This is exactly what the customer service rep did. She told the man she could overnight him a new pair of shoes in the right size and he could return the other pair when he could, as long as it was within 365 days of the purchase. Crazy huh? Why not make him send the shoes back first and why should the company pay for overnight shipping?

Unbeknownst to her the irate customer had a well-read blog and posted a piece all about his experience singing the praises of the company and proclaiming himself a lifelong customer.

This is the best way to handle negative publicity, taking a bad situation and making it better. For the $20 it might have cost to overnight the shoes, the clothing company potentially gained dozens of new customers because of the glowing blog review. If your business does attract negative publicity or you do find yourself on the phone with an irate customer rather than getting angry and going on the offensive do everything you can to make them happy. Instead of filing a lawsuit because someone said something bad about you, ask him or her why and what it would take to make them happy.