How to handle negative PR effectively

Blogs 21 Jun 2021

Negative PR can happen to any small business at any time, but what should you do if you find your small business in this situation? Here's how you can spin a negative into a positive and protect your brand.

Any company can receive negative PR at some stage in its business lifetime, even if it does everything right. That doesn’t mean you should ignore it if it happens to your company and hope it will go away. PR and crisis management experts at the Federation of Small Businesses share what you can do to counter the effects of negative PR to control bad publicity and show your business in a more positive light. 

Understanding negative PR

Negative PR or publicity can take different forms in business, involving harmful published information, which can affect anything from sales to your reputation. Different types of negative PR about your business could include:

  • Bad press about your company in the news, online, in newspapers, or on television
  • Poor reviews about your products or services on adviser sites and online forums
  • Complaints and negative comments about your business on social channels

Countering such bad PR and publicity about your business involves aiming to reduce and neutralise that negative information - and this starts with your initial response.  

Choosing the right response

When you receive negative PR, how you respond is essential to countering it. Firstly, you should respond quickly to help stop any negative publicity from getting worse. Negative PR about your company can spread fast, such as through word of mouth or as more journalists cover a story and create more bad press.

However, if you respond quickly and put together and distribute a press release or statement, for instance, you can control how the story develops. To help with this, it’s important to have a PR crisis plan in place.

When you respond, it’s also important to keep calm and not overreact. A sudden, unprepared reaction might result in you saying or doing something that only gives the press more mileage to keep running with negative news stories about your business. It might also cause you to take your eye off other important daily business matters, which still need to be dealt with.

It’s also essential that you’re honest and decisive in your response. If your company is at fault for some negative PR, such as a defect with one of your products, it’s wise to face up to the situation, apologise, and explain what you’re doing to put things right.

If questioned by the media, it’s advisable to refrain from saying 'no comment'. Journalists might just make their own assumptions about those questions you’re not prepared to answer. If you're the CEO/MD of the business, you should also be prepared to make yourself available to do press interviews and handle stakeholder questioning. This way you can answer questions calmly and sensibly and get across the messages you want.

Crisis management is a test of leadership – it is vital the most senior person in the organisation is seen to be the voice of the business during a crisis, so as the CEO or MD, you should always be the frontline spokesperson fronting up media and stakeholder questioning. It would be ill-advised to delegate this role to a less senior employee or to an external PR representative.

Creating positive company messages

Another way to counter negative PR is to aim to generate positive messages about your business. This can come down to aiming to produce as much positive content about your business as possible, which could help push down rankings of bad PR on Google and social. You could write articles related to your business or industry, or you could put together press releases about positive news at your company to help deflect the focus from the negative articles.

Consider responding to negative comments, like on social or review sites, by messaging customers. Customers might not expect this and will respect you and your business for doing so and trying to understand an issue better. Tread carefully when doing this and think about what you should say to avoid making things worse. Other things can help too, such as prepping your staff to give positive messages in your shop, over the phone, or when mingling at networking events.

You should aim to use any negative PR as an opportunity to make things better in your business. Whether this involves fixing problems in production, addressing customer service issues, or improving your product or service offering, you can create and strengthen the message that, even at the worst of times, your business is good and decent.

Protecting your business

There’s a lot to think about when countering negative PR in business, from how you respond, to the messages you create about your company. But with the right expertise, advice, and support you can ensure your business is seen in the best possible light.

Affordable PR support you can count on in a crisis

Protect your reputation with FSB PR and Crisis Management. Professional PR advice for small businesses, with specialist crisis communications support and insurance of up to £10,000 in the event of a major public relations crisis.

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