July 20, 2017

How to turn a negative story around


Written by Meridith Bridge, Associate Partner, New York & Jen Horsman, Consultant, Oxford

In our ever-evolving, socially-connected world, it is becoming more likely that news about a failure in process or product will make its way into the public domain…

Sometimes the implications are minimal, but other times it can be extremely damaging – impacting revenue and tarnishing brand reputation for years to come.

While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, we share our top three tips on how to minimise the impacts of a negative story, and successfully manage communications in a crisis.

1. Take your head out of the sand. You don’t have the option to disengage!
While it may be tempting to hide away from the public eye and hope that a negative story will go away on its own, it’s best to respond to the situation promptly. If you don’t act with speed and tell your story, someone else will, and this makes it much more of a challenge to regain control of the conversation.

The faster you can issue a statement about the issue, the better and ensure to share what steps you’re taking to address it. Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn did this earlier this year, offering customers a money-back guarantee after a negative story on the quality of their product hit the press. It’s also important to continue to contribute to the conversation; a company shouldn’t assume its job is done simply because it posted a statement on a few social networks.

2. Remember the three Cs of crisis communications: concern, commitment, control. 
When a negative story enters the public domain it’s important to be transparent with your stakeholders, considering the three Cs of crisis communications in all material you develop: concern, commitment and control.

Ideally you need to demonstrate that you have the situation under control, that you’re committed to resolving the issue as efficiently as possible, and that you are sympathetic to public concern – unlike BP CEO Tony Hayward after the 2010 oil spill. However, being authentic and appearing genuine is essential in a crisis, so don’t force-fit your messages.

It helps to refer to your stakeholder map when developing your communications, so you can tailor messages to suit each audience. Remember though, you must be consistent in what you say, who you say it to, and where you say it!

3. Every interaction should be treated as an opportunity.
Every social media posting, newsletter and press statement should be treated as an opportunity to shape your brand’s perception in the public eye. Southwest Airlines demonstrated how to do this last summer by taking the opportunity to talk about their handling of the crisis during their previously scheduled earnings report.

If done correctly, communications in a crisis can strengthen brand ambassador support. Taco Bell got it right! A number of years ago, via the use of social media, Taco Bell turned negative publicity into a positive situation and came out on top.

With a proactive approach, an honest response and the right message, a negative story doesn’t have to become “life threatening” to a company. In fact, if handled properly, a mistake or issue can be treated as an opportunity to engage with stakeholders, maintain brand reputation and reaffirm brand loyalty.