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How To…Deal With Bad Publicity

How To…Deal With Bad Publicity

In today’s world, PR disasters are just one ill-judged tweet away. Kevin Hasler, general manager at BPG Public Relations, explains how to manage negative publicity.


In the world of smartphones, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, we are witnessing PR disasters somewhere around the world on a daily basis.

From the impromptu tweeting of international sports stars, to intrusive long lens photography, hidden restaurant cameras and the explosion of social media – there are PR mishaps waiting to happen around every corner.

So what can individuals, companies, governments and organisations do to stem the tide of negative PR?

Well the first thing sounds obvious – but it works. Don’t lie. Tell the truth. If you tell lies then eventually you will get found out – just ask Lance Armstrong.

If something does go wrong then it is simply best to be honest, be transparent, be quick to respond – and when appropriate – be prepared to say sorry. We are all human, no one is perfect and the ultimate goal of managing any crisis or potential PR disaster is to protect the long- term reputation of the individual or organisation.

Once that reputation is lost or damaged – it can take years to rebuild, if at all. Enron was destroyed by a PR disaster, BP will be hard pressed to find favour ever again in the Gulf of Louisiana and global advertisers run for cover as soon as sports stars like Tiger Woods and others hit personal and domestic crises.

The explosion of social media has increased the potential for a PR disaster exponentially. It means that PR practitioners need to be faster, more nimble and better prepared than ever before.

So how can people prevent PR disasters from happening at all? Scrupulous corporate governance procedures and transparency with internal/external communications are clearly vital factors, alongside being fully prepared to manage and cope with any potential future crises or disasters.

Any large organisation – or individual – should be able to forecast a wide range of potential issues that can impact their reputation. This means they should have a crisis management team in place that has clearly defined roles and responsibilities, a set of prepared responses that can be quickly adapted to suit specific circumstances and a positive mind-set to dealing with the crisis or potential disaster.

But simply hiding behind a prepared statement no longer cuts it when disaster strikes. It is imperative to put a human face behind the statements and in engagement with both the media and other stakeholders.

As soon as is practical – get your own story out there. Make sure your internal team across the organisation know what has happened and the approved position – then start telling the story in your own words.

It is a well-known truism in the PR industry that if you don’t get your own story out – someone else will and they invariably will get it wrong. The more control you take over the destiny of your own reputation then the better you can survive any crisis.

And finally never forget that people want to buy and interact with organisations and individuals they trust and respect. As long as you never take that for granted – you will be travelling some way to successfully minimising potential PR disasters.


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