Have you been the subject of some negative media coverage?
As your company grows (adding employees, launching new products and expanding to new markets) so do the possibilities for some critical press coverage. Here are several action steps to take to handle those situations…
1. Be prepared. Sounds simple but many companies are often caught unprepared when problems arise. First have a crisis communications plan in place. You never know what can happen in the day-to-day operation of even a small business. A business owner should be prepared for a fire, disgruntled customers, an employee that gets too aggressive with customers or becomes unstable, food poisoning-if it is a restaurant or supermarket, or even a security breach.
2. Determine the severity of the negative news. Did you get a small negative mention in the newspaper or something that can be misconstrued as negative? Is there one angry customer who is ticked off about an item? Or, did a TV station do a virtual “hammer job” on your business where 12 angry customers were on camera all complaining about your bad service, a troublesome employee, or defective merchandise? The severity of the negative press will determine what steps to take next.
3. In most cases the best course of action is no action. If it is something relatively minor than the best course of action would probably be to take no action. In this day of the 24 hour news cycle most people will glance over anything that isn’t a major story or something that doesn’t get published in multiple outlets. In most cases there is no need to fan the flames to make the situation worse than it is. If the negative press is a very minor mention in a newspaper, and not really an issue or a problem, there is no need to run ads apologizing for any mishaps. Drawing more attention to the issue only pours gasoline on the fire.
4. Take a proactive approach when the issue becomes serious. A business owner should try to get out in front of any serious issue that could negatively impact the company. If you hear from a customer or contact in advance that a newspaper or TV station is going to do a negative story don’t hide from it. Failing to respond to multiple media requests indicates your firm is “guilty” of some violation, whether true or not. Instead, take precautions to fix that problem.
Companies can be proactive by issuing a letter to the media or to customers. This is a typical corporate response that will usually be effective…
“We realize that there was an issue with our delivery system. We apologize for any problems this may have created for our customers. We have made staff changes and the appropriate alterations to the system which should alleviate any issue moving forward. Customers should no longer have any problems. Meantime, we will be happy to honor merchandise returns or cash reimbursements if necessary. We have been in business for 20 years and we appreciate the business we have received from the Dunlap area for the past two decades. Many of you we not only consider customers but also good friends. If you have an issue please call me personally at (phone number). We look forward to continuing to serve your needs.”
5. Take caution about granting interviews. If it is a situation spiraling out of control the owner may feel compelled to appear on camera or answer tough questions with a newspaper reporter. They first should secure some media training. The owner should be schooled and prepared to answer some probing inquiries. Keep in mind physical appearance plays a strong role in how the public will perceive the owner, the company and the situation. This includes wearing the proper attire and hosting the interview in the proper setting. Take a proactive approach and avoid the “got cha” parking lot camera crews.
6. Watch and learn. Read the newspaper(s) and watch TV news, both network (such as 60 Minutes) and local. Keep an eye out for any stories that could be a crisis or a negative situation. Watch how those firms or organizations react. Some of the schools and major companies have a good plan to handle negative press. Some do not. It becomes obvious when a major chain or business keeps getting blasted by the media without any type of response.
Case in point, in my view Chipotle did a poor job of handling the original crisis they faced with food poisoning. Eventually the CEO appeared on the Today Show to discuss it but it was not impactful and they took too long to respond. The stock price tanked. Chipotle, overall a good company, continues to have issues from time-to-time with food illnesses. I am sure they have lost thousands of customers over time.
A business owner needs to be prepared for anything that could go wrong. They need to have a plan in place for any type of crises and/or negative situation. At the same time they need to be astute enough to analyze if some negative news is really “negative” and will impact their business. If the answer is “no” than don’t spend time making the problem worse. If is the answer is “yes” then take the appropriate action to first fix the problem, and then let the appropriate media know the problem is resolved.