Former Mylan CEO Heather Bresch

How to Avoid Bad Publicity

British poet John Lydgate once said, ‘you can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time’. This is as true of PR as anything else. No matter how hard you try, sometimes bad publicity is unavoidable, whether it’s due to an issue with a customer order, an aggrieved employee, or an ethical issue.

For the most part, bad press can be handled without incident. However, sometimes negativity can pick up steam and become something bigger. What matters is how you react. If you’re prepared, you can prevent most situations from escalating into full-blown PR disasters. Here’s how:

Do the right thing

This should go without saying but a lot of businesses bring negative PR on themselves by not doing the right thing; whether it’s responding to customer complaints in the right way, treating staff fairly, or trading ethically.

You don’t have to be a PR professional to know that businesses that act questionably are more likely to be caught up in scandal. Take, for example, American pharmaceuticals company Mylan. In 2016, the company raised the price of its life-saving EpiPen by over 600%. CEO Heather Bresch attempted to justify the price hike with an allegedly bogus profitability breakdown.

Putting profits before people caused outrage, and the company’s reputation was damaged as a result.

Advice: Be ethical and transparent in the way you do business and communicate with your stakeholders.

Be on the side of your customers

Business is all about building relationships with your customers. They need to trust you and feel like you’re on their side if you want them to be loyal to you.

Tesco demonstrated this during a very public dispute with its main supplier, Unilever last year. The supermarket giant rejected a request from Unilever to increase prices by up to 10% on favourite household brands such as Marmite, Ben & Jerry’s, and Comfort fabric conditioner, because of the fall in the value of sterling following the Brexit vote.

Tesco refused to hike prices, arguing that Unilever was exploiting their customers. Instead, they made a commitment to stop stocking Unilever products.

The issue was resolved after a lot of negotiation, but Tesco didn’t mind, as it did wonders for their image. They were praised by customers and the media alike, for taking the consumer’s side.

Advice: Fighting your customers’ corner is a great way to bolster your reputation and get some great PR in the process. If you want to go down this route, consider what you can do to help your customers, what challenges your business can overcome to make it happen, and what you can achieve for them as a result.

Limit the damage

A great example of damage limitation is Mike Ashley’s appearance in front of MPs over Sports Directs failure to adhere to minimum wage legislation. By admitting to the problem, coming clean about the issues surrounding it, and providing a solution, Ashley limited the bad publicity.

Advice: If you receive bad press, act rationally and be accountable. If the coverage is justified, acknowledge the complaint, address the issue and apologise. And even if you aren’t technically at fault, taking responsibility for putting things right can go a long way with customers, and, as we all know, good customer service builds good business reputation.

Let your work do the talking

If you outperform your competitors, people will forget that there was ever any bad press. Take American actor Robert Downey, Jr for example. The actor had a serious substance abuse problem and was a train wreck for many years. His career and personal life were in jeopardy. But what happened? He got some help, got off the drugs and began starring in some great movies. Today, everyone loves and respects him, and few remember his troubled past.

Advice: In the event of bad press, work even harder to prove how amazing you are. Reflect on what went wrong and take steps to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.

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