As a recreational runner, I’ve had a lifelong fear of red-winged blackbirds. I’ve been divebombed numerous times seemingly out of the blue when a protectant mama bird sees me approaching. Screaming, gesturing wildly and throwing rocks in my defense as I stumble away traumatized, I wonder “what did I do to deserve this?” 

If you, your product or your company are the subject of a negative news article or social media post, you may feel similarly attacked, seemingly out of the blue. Your otherwise sanguine world can be upended by what feels like a personal attack.  

This situation is more and more prevalent in our divisive political environment where we’ve seen firms become embroiled in culture wars or political rhetoric that trumpets slogans without regard for facts. Recent attacks on sustainable investing by politicians decrying “woke” investments have targeted major investment firms. There is often little upside in engaging in such debates, but sharing a carefully worded statement directly with concerned clients that reiterates your fiduciary responsibility and rigorous process can be beneficial. Supporting and joining industry efforts to counter these attacks can also help place coordinated political attacks in the right context.  

Now, when you find yourself maligned in a story or the poster child for some troll on social media, what steps should you take? 

Check the facts 

Initially, make sure the author has the correct information. Check the source of any data used in the article and make sure there are no errors. On more than one occasion, we’ve found numbers from a reporting agency that led to an article were actually wrong. Getting it corrected quickly can end your suffering and get your name out of a negative story. Be sure to ask the news organization to post a correction.    

Push back, but don’t lash out 

If you feel like there is more to the story or the author has it wrong, reach out to clarify your position.  Perhaps a story relies on incomplete but true information. Call the writer and share the full information.  Remain calm and avoid lashing out; reacting defensively or with hostility will only draw further negative attention.    

Write a rebuttal 

If the story is opinion-based or you think the reporter got it wrong, explain your position. You can reach out directly or have your PR firm reach out on your behalf. If the reporter stands firm, reach out to the editor.If there is still no action, write a letter to the editor or post a comment online. Even if the story persists, your response will provide additional context.  

Remember to be factual and reasoned in your response. Preserve a record of your response to share if the news organization doesn’t publish your rebuttal. If you choose to talk with a reporter or editor, stay collected and unemotional. Keep in mind that your words could be added to the story. 

Get back out there 

In the wake of negative news, the temptation might be to try to hide. But people’s perceptions are shaped by more than just one article. Maintain an active social media presence and aim to place timely, interesting thought leadership in other publications.  

While the tendency to feel once burned twice shy is widespread, try to maintain a good relationship with the author. While you may not want to favor said reporter with your next big announcement, they are likely to continue covering you and your firm. Give journalists a chance to get to know you better and cover your other stories. 

In the end, know that your reputation is about more than one article. Successful public relations creates a mosaic of impressions across media. While it’s not fun being the subject of negative news, you can get beyond it more effectively by addressing it. 

Listen and learn from the experience 

Undeserved criticism is painful, but it allows you to hear from key stakeholders and consider how to prevent or respond to similar situations in the future.   While you can’t avoid future negative media, you can tweak your communications strategy to try and sidestep undeserved attacks.    

After all, not every reporter, or bird for that matter, is planning to attack you.  

Lowe Group offers a range of services related to public relations, send us a note for more information

Pro Tips for Newcomers

Are you onboarding new hires in PR, media relations, content marketing or digital marketing this summer? This collection of pro tips from our seasoned pros may help with their orientation.