by Guest Blogger Mickie Kennedy
Maybe you recently sent off a press release or advised your exec team to try a hashtag campaign to earn some positive PR. Unfortunately, the paper/blog/magazine that picked up the story covered it in an unflattering light. And that hashtag campaign? Yikes.
For example, imagine being the PR adviser behind SeaWorld’s #AskSeaWorld campaign. “This will be a great avenue for honest, two-way dialogue,” the reasoning probably went. “People will ask honest questions, and we’ll provide honest answers — it’s exactly what this brand needs.” Not a bad idea at all at the outset, but the public’s outrage over the park’s alleged mistreatment of its mammalian attractions was sorely underestimated, and soon, instead of questions about dolphin training, the SeaWorld Twitter account began receiving messages like these:
This can be one of those stomach-dropping moments in the life of a public relations professional. While hopefully you’ll never be at the helm of such a situation, you can rest assured that something similar will likely happen– a popular fashion blogger picks apart your company’s latest spring offering, or a reporter dishes a bit more snark than anyone likes.
Here are some practical steps when dealing with bad PR for both the PR pro and the company:
Put yourself in your exec’s shoes. In an effort to fix the situation, first figure out their mindset. Why are they upset? What ramifications does this have for their business?
Be empathetic and listen well. This is the time to take in everything that leadership has to say, be empathetic to how they feel, respond to them and repeat what they say so they know you are listening actively.
Apologize, even if it wasn’t your fault. You want to keep all parties happy, so make sure they know that you are sorry about the way this event unfolded.
Try to find a solution. Once the story is out there, it can be difficult to retract. But look for ways to remedy what has happened. If there were factual inaccuracies, contact the reporter or journalist to have them corrected. You cannot and should not try to influence the opinion of a journalist who has the correct facts, so don’t bother. This could also be an opportunity for your exec team, if they dug up an old scandal or some other mistake, to address it on the company’s website or Twitter profile.
Remind the company brass that silence is OK. All commenters on the internet don’t need a response, and it might be better for the company to say nothing than to get into an online shouting match. Remember that although things were rough for your company today, there will be another piece of bad publicity for some other company tomorrow. The best way to move past a scandal is to weather it with class, and, when appropriate, counter it with plenty of positive messaging.