Plan & play the game: 3 tips to help you sail through bad press when things go south at work
Even the slightest reaction can gain momentum and spiral out of control
After months of political and media scrutiny, Chinese telecom group Huawei recently hired a top Washington public relations firm to reportedly help them fight allegations that it was a threat to American national security. In an age where easy access and transparency make it difficult for any CEO or public personality to escape media scrutiny, how does one navigate choppy waters?
Here are a few tips to help you sail through bad press when things go south:
Make a game plan
No matter the story, do not react in haste. Even the slightest reaction (if not thought out) can gain momentum and spiral out of control. Instead, get together key people in your team and come to a consensus on the best way to tackle the issue.
Calmly assess the damage (what part of your life/business is affected) and separate what you can control from what you can’t. Is there information that you could share that may shift the narrative or would it be better to let the story reach its natural conclusion? Even a 10-minute discussion can help you streamline your next steps.
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Own the narrative
Once you have a game plan in place, start by acknowledging the story. If you don’t, someone else will control the narrative and the real facts will be overlooked and/or distorted. If need be, apologise. While your legal team could urge complete silence, nothing defuses a situation like someone owning up. Even if it’s not your fault, a middleground phrase like: “Our experts are telling us we are not to blame. But, at present, we feel as if we are and, until someone confirms differently, we’ll act as if we are, and do all we can to put things right,” showcases maturity and may even inspire trust. Once you have dealt with the fallout, work on strengthening your relationships with the media and other shareholders. Hire a reputation management service that specialises in crisis management or SEO to help you shift the narrative.
Play the game
Rather than treat the media persons as your enemy, work with them. Although circumstances differ, they will probably be the fastest and best way of reaching out to your target audience. A ‘no comment’ or ‘unavailable for comment’ often signals guilt and may cause more damage to your reputation in the long run. Instead, bring in your PR agency and communications team to craft the narrative you want to tell. Remember, there is always a way to spin the story or say little without falling back on the trusty-but-overused ‘no comment’.
If you do decide to give interviews, make sure to capitalise on every single one. Since your target audience will be watching only a single news source, treat every interview you give like the first one post the ‘crisis’. They should be empathetic, captivating and most importantly, should hit home with all your key messages.