Sometimes it doesn’t matter if they spell your name right. The publicity just hurts.
We occasionally get a call from a business or an individual who feels they’ve been wronged by the media. A story was written about them and they’re angry. In some cases, they’re mad about the general tone of the story, maybe a quotation from a rival or a factual error. In more serious cases, they come to us feeling as though they’ve been badly wronged and they’re looking for a way to set the record straight.
Hold on! Let’s look at the big picture
In these scenarios, our job is to provide professional counsel on what is best for you. As outsiders to your organization, we are able to look at your situation objectively. What we recommend depends on many things, but here are some of the questions we’ll ask.
- What are your objectives as an organization or individual and how does the negative publicity affect them?
- Is what was written true?
- Was it fair?
- Was it the result of a leak or dirty tricks?
- Could it lead to legal or other regulatory action?
- Is it likely that a response or a correction will do more harm than good?
- Are there other ways to come at this?
- Is the misinformation spreading to other media or via social media?
It might come as a surprise, but in many cases we advise our clients against responding to a negative news story. Why? Because most of the time, the perceived slight is very small and inconsequential. The client feels disproportionately offended by the publicity, because they’re too close to things and fear the worst.
It could be a simple factual error in the reporting (which happens all the time, so don’t believe everything you read) that has no long term ramifications on your business. If the overall tone of the story is negative, then seeking a correction will only keep that negative story in the public eye for another news cycle. That will ensure it’s viewed or read and shared by even more people.
But what if it’s just not going away?
If the story seems as though it is going to stay in the news or social media for a while, or if you think it’s likely that it will return in the future, then you need to take some action. Here are some basic pointers.
If the media has made a hash of things and gotten basic information wrong, then try to correct it. Call the reporters directly and explain the basis of the errors. Don’t get angry. Most reporters are professionals who will want to get the facts right. They may not like publishing or airing corrections, but they’ll do it if it’s clear they were wrong. They may print a correction or clarification. They can update digital content. They may even run a new story correcting the misinformation.
Wrongfully accused or disproportionately punished
Sometimes companies have a black mark on their record that the media just keeps bringing up. Maybe it was an injury or death that occurred on the job. Maybe it was a respected (and normally responsible) restaurant that got blindsided by a health department closure. Or maybe your company happened to be the lucky one to have a precedent setting ruling against them in court or at an official hearing or tribunal.
In all of those cases, as much as you may object and say it’s unfair for the media to keep bringing that up, you probably need to take concrete action to correct the problems. Safety issues can and should be addressed, so address them. Become the poster child for on the job safety. You’ll probably end up saving money and running a better business anyway, and you’ll have something positive to say when the media calls again.
Sanitation issues are important. There are no two ways about it. Fix the problem. If people ask about it, tell them how you’ve dealt with it and show them how serious you take it.
And if you’ve become the black-hat-wearing precedent for some human rights violation, then establish a code of conduct and set a zero tolerance policy on any bad behaviour. The next time a reporter calls you about it, show them how things have changed and maybe get some customer or employee testimonials ready to go.
Over time, your reputation will be restored. Those old stories will go away or be forgiven and you can get on with running your business.
If all else fails
Sometimes you need to drop the gloves and put up your dukes. The problem with ‘fighting’ the media is that a newspaper has a printing press and an endless barrel of ink. Most of them like money, however, and will gladly accept your cheque in exchange for advertising space where you can set the record straight. So too will most other media.
In some cases, you won’t even have to pay. If the reporting was shockingly bad enough and there’s a whiff of libel, you may be able to persuade a media outlet to give you equal space to tell your story. Richard Branson did that with the Guardian newspaper after an article that was one-sided and critical of his Virgin group of companies appeared in that paper in the early 1990s.
And, thankfully, there is still competition among media outlets. So if you’re not getting a fair shake at one of them, you might try another. They may just like getting into a scrap with their rival if the cause is just enough.
We also have the option of publishing our clients’ stories on their own websites and via social media channels where they can help drive a brand forward in a more positive way. If you’re facing a crisis, you’ll need to deal with both short and long term implications. For us, that usually means creating a steady drumbeat of positive publicity over time.
If you’re facing a crisis and you need someone on your side, give us a call. We’ll be happy to give you a free introductory consultation.