Oh shoot (or more likely an expletive). Nothing worse than getting an unexpected google alert with your company name connected to unflattering news.
It is frustrating to be the subject of negative media coverage. When your company is named in a lawsuit or regulatory matter, or a key executive leaves to join a competitor, the news media loves to tell these stories as much as we’d prefer to avoid them.
And even after the dust settles, it isn’t uncommon for a certain wariness to set in, an expectation that if you talk to the media they are likely to bring up the recent negative story again. That can lead some companies to avoid the media all together. But that isn’t a good long-term strategy and can be counterproductive—after all, if the only thing someone finds when they check out your company is the negative coverage, that is going to be their main takeaway.
Managing negative news when it first comes out
While sometimes we are blindsided by negative news, more often, we know when it is coming. It is next to impossible to stop a negative story, but you can try to minimize it. Some stories may show up just in industry publications but not reach a broader audience. When called about these stories, it is helpful to have a written statement ready or a news release with more details. You may not need to release the news per se, but you will want to be prepared with a limited and concise statement.
This isn’t so easy with bigger stories where your company will want to execute a full crisis communications response. The goal will always be to keep the story to just a few days.
Keeping a low profile in the first few weeks after negative news hits makes sense. You are waiting for the news to die down and for perceptions to return to normal. But eventually you need to get out there, and you don’t want perceptions about your company to continue to revolve around that negative news.
Rebuilding your firm’s reputation
Rebuilding your firm’s reputation – and your own confidence in talking to the media – is possible. It requires a careful and proactive effort to try to build out the fuller picture of your firm than that represented by a handful of negative stories.
We often talk about perceptions about your company being like a mosaic. Each story is just one tile in the mosaic. While the full picture will include the negative story, it should also include the broader and complete picture of your firm. Creating a plan to place more stories and build other impressions can help “push down” the negative stories and add more tiles to your mosaic.
While it takes time, a company can rebuild its reputation. In this internet age, search engines will bring up the most recent stories on well–travelled sites. So try to get other coverage for your company to build out a fuller picture (mosaic).
- Broaden your list of experts – If one company leader or product is the subject of negative news, focus on other leaders or products in your line up. Pitch stories or proactively seek interviews for other team members. Put different experts on CNBC or Bloomberg.
- Seek to place your thought leadership and other content you control – This is where an effective thought leadership effort can be beneficial. Leveraging blog content and white papers into earned media opportunities by placing articles in key publication can help drive positive media attention to counter negative news. You may want to selectively consider paid media; native content in key publications read by clients and prospects can demonstrate your company’s wherewithal.
- Set the record straight – While few companies ever do this, if you continue to be vilified in the media, you may want to find a trusted media contact to set the record straight or at least tell a fuller story. If you continue to be dogged by negative news, reach out to a reporter you have a good relationship with and offer to talk about your challenges, correct any inaccuracies and lay out your strategy for the coming year. While this can mean rehashing negative news, a well-placed profile written by a thoughtful reporter discussing your thoughtful recovery strategy can go a long way to building support from longtime clients and friends of your firm.
- Get out and do something good – Promote your company’s community activities. If your company has special knowledge, go out and share your expertise in a way that helps the community. If key executives have donated their time or materials, let local media know. Share those activities on social media too. Corporate social responsibility is important in normal times, but your CSR activities take on greater importance when trying to mend your reputation.
- Apply for awards – each year, there are numerous opportunities for industry awards. Submit your firm for recognition in categories that are important to you. Put time into a solid, well written nomination. Promote the recognition with a news release and posting to your website.
- Let time pass -While negative news is seemingly out there “forever” on the internet, people’s memories fade. It may feel like it will be hard to overcome the intensity of emotion when your company faces a regulatory event or a when a key employee departs, but new leaders step up and succeed and your company continues to move forward and make other advances. As time goes on, these past stories become a smaller and smaller part of the picture.
Investing attention and proactively planning to rebuild your reputation is important after you’ve been the subject of significant negative news coverage. Results won’t come overnight. Take the time to monitor how your company appears in various search engines and share your successes with your internal audiences and clients. It takes time to rebuild your reputation, but when you look back, you will be glad you did. Let us know if we can help with both crisis communications and ongoing reputation management.