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Here’s How to Handle Bad Publicity

By: Susan Melony


Photographers are taking a picture of a film star

Small businesses are not easy to maintain. If your company is smaller, that probably means you only offer a few select services or products. You have to do well within a particular niche because if you don’t, you’re not going to survive year after year.

Publicity matters a great deal. You never want to find out that your small business went viral for all the wrong reasons, like if you said something controversial via social media on your official company accounts. That’s why you should exercise caution with what you say in public as a business owner.

If something went wrong, though, and you’re getting some bad publicity because of it, you should know that all is probably not lost. You need to handle your next moves very carefully, though, if you hope to ride out the crisis. Let’s look at some ways you can do that.

What Action You Take Will Depend on What Went Wrong

The first thing about bad publicity you should realize is that there’s no single playbook on which you should base your actions. You’ll have to look at each situation as being unique and different, as indeed they are.

For instance, maybe your small business is getting some poor publicity because one of your workers hurt themselves while they were on the clock. Ideally, you will have worker’s comp insurance that can help them.

If you didn’t have a worker’s comp insurance policy in place, that was a serious mistake, and it will severely limit your options. You must talk to an attorney about what your best move is in that circumstance.

If you did have an insurance policy in place, you can probably take action based on when you receive a settlement demand letter from the individual who hurt themselves. A settlement demand letter is something that the injured party writes to you, letting you know they are willing to settle out of court for the right price.

You might take different action if you came out with a product that you had to recall. You may also have to get rid of some employees who acted inappropriately with customers. Every different bad publicity situation will require a measured, appropriate response.

You Might Make a Public Apology

The public apology might be the right way to go in certain instances. The idea is that you want to address the issue rather than let the public see that you’re trying to avoid it.

You can make a public apology via all of your social media accounts. Perhaps you want to issue it via your website or blog as well if you have one. You also have avenues like podcasts if you think you can reach more people that way.

You’ll want a skilled copywriter to write the apology for you if you don’t feel like you can handle that part yourself. Even if you write it, you should run it by the other company heads, if there are any, before you deliver the message. Every word can matter in these instances, and this might be your only chance to get it right and save your business.

You May Have to Hire a PR Firm to Help You

Maybe you feel like you messed up pretty badly, and your whole business is hanging on the brink. There are definitely some small business mistakes that can sink you utterly if the public views them as being egregious enough.

If you’re in one of these spots, you may decide you need to farm out the solution or at least bring some mediators in to offer advice. PR firms exist that you can hire to help you. Some of them are in business solely to help companies that have made serious missteps.

These firms are crisis management specialists. They can step in and take the tiller, so to speak, guiding you into safer territory. They might tell you how to apologize, whether to fire any employees to make examples of them, or they might have some other avenue they think makes the most sense for you.

It’s Usually Best to Apologize Sincerely and Learn from the Mistake

Some small business owners come out with an offensive product or make some other blunder, and then they double down on what they said or did. The owners may feel like they’re taking a stand for their viewpoint, and they will never apologize for it.

This is always your prerogative as a small business owner or any ordinary, private citizen. However, in these instances, remember that you could be letting your principles get in the way of your business coming back to life. If your mistake led to a standstill, this is a critical moment for you.

It’s often best to apologize for what happened if you were in the wrong. You should keep things simple and concise, but when the time comes to address either the media or the public at large, you need to seem contrite. If you appear defiant, then they will take more from your attitude than what you have to say about what took place.

You can learn from the mistake, assuming you can continue operating and people keep buying your products and utilizing your services. You can either hire better staff members next time, or you can avoid saying anything controversial on social media. You can make sure you test your products more before allowing them onto store shelves.

One thing you should remember is that America loves a comeback story. You might be able to return from this accident or misadventure and reclaim your standing. It is all about the actions you take as you try to navigate this potentially perilous territory.

Nearly any crisis management company you hire will inform you that you need to take steps to address the problem, whatever it is. If you try to ignore it, the chances are high that it will destroy the business you’ve worked so hard to create.

Published: June 1, 2021

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