Various companies have different approaches to dealing with negative press. I knew of one large international company that was in the habit of refusing to discuss anything negative in the public arena. Its standard line was ‘we do not indulge the discussion of rumours’.
Another company took to fervently defending itself, to the point of implicating others (a la ‘you are wrong we have never treated our staff unfairly, unlike such and such who is renowned for it..’)
My favourite approach, at least on the entertainment scale, is the ‘no comment’ one; I actually sat through an analyst meeting with a CMO who intermittently replied to perfectly benign questions with ‘no comment’ because he didn’t know the answer.
The effective handling of negative media is a fundamental element of maintaining a long term positive profile; even the shining stars of the business world can’t please very single customer all of the time and with the countless avenues available to people who wish to express their views, proper handling strategies are not to be ignored. There are a few basic tips for navigating those occasional unflattering comments brought forward during media interviews.
Believe it or not, the company in my first scenario was onto something; it’s not helpful to indulge rumours and engage in an all out public bun fight. But at the same time, it’s not wise to churn out the same unhelpful statement time after time as an obvious blocking strategy, journalists will simply go elsewhere for the information and you won’t even get a say.
Instead, if you are about to be interviewed and you are anticipating a negative comment, prepare a response beforehand that addresses the facts only and doesn’t lend weight to untruths or exaggerations. Explain that there has been some rumour mongering and these are the facts and this is what your company is doing to address those. Don’t be drawn into speculation, simply stick to the facts and firmly state your commitment to dealing with them. Use the opportunity to underline your core company values. If you’re careful not to stray from what you have prepared, your statement will be clear and reassuring to customers.
On the other hand, if you weren’t anticipating the question you can explain that you are presently investigating the best options for addressing the issue at hand. Do look into them as a matter of urgency though and do respond immediately after the interview; dropping the ball will only reflect badly. During TV interviews, be sure to explain where interested parties will be able to go to find updates (e.g. the company website).
Avoid ‘no comment’ at all costs; at best it’s hostile and it can even be perceived as an admission of liability. Basically, this is a response that belongs on criminal investigation TV shows.
Always present an open and helpful face and never respond with disparaging remarks about the competition, they won’t help you to gain the respect of your customers. Alternatively, the efforts you make to elevate the impression of your company are likely to reap significant rewards.
It goes without saying that a large-scale crisis requires a well-planned approach to crisis management, however the occasional negative episode needn’t bring the business down if handled thoughtfully and with the customer’s needs in mind (because in the end they’re what business is all about, right?)