Gina Blitstein Article
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Garnering Good Press from a Publicity Gaffe: Making Lemonade from Lemons
Oops! You (or someone in your company) said the wrong thing publicly. Someone misspoke, expressed a controversial opinion or said something that reflected poorly upon your business. Whether it was during a conference, in advertising or on social media, people are aware of it and negative press is spreading. Even if the gaffe was completely unintentional, damage has been done. Public outrage has commenced and there’s a bad light shining on your company. You’re left embarrassed, damaged and unpopular, and with the potential to lose business (or at the very least public good will). What’s a company to do when faced with this type of negative publicity?
Step back and take a deep breath
While your first instinct may be to jump in and aggressively try to rectify, clarify or retract what was stated, you’ll want to put on the brakes instead. Although you can see the impact of the damage in real time, there’s little or no benefit to speaking to the drama while it’s initially playing out. To respond out of panic is a sure way to make the mistake of overreacting or reacting out of a desire for retaliation. Your initial response should be to step back and patiently discover precisely what happened and how. Once you gain that understanding, you can embark on your response and plan your damage control.
Assess the situation and potential damage
What was the actual issue? Was it a matter of word choice, a stated (or misstated) opinion or policy? Did a company representative speak out of school? Pinpoint the infraction, then determine what happened from there. Was something misconstrued or taken out of context? Was something relatively minor blown out of proportion? How is the public reacting? Are they saying negative things about your company? Boycotting your products? Spreading negative press on social media? The what and where of public response will tell you where you should respond.
Acknowledge the issue
While owning up to the issue won’t be easy, there’s really no way to avoid doing so. Ignoring public outrage will only serve to brand you as out of touch, uncaring or aloof. As owner of your business, you don’t have to change the way you do anything; that being said, you must at least acknowledge the fact that you’ve come under public scrutiny.
Craft a calm and measured response
Having taken the necessary time to digest the situation, you’ll be able to respond to it from a place of calmness and strength. Keep your response strictly to the point, being assertive and non-judgmental. Focus on perspective and upon a commitment to moving ahead with greater sensitivity and understanding.
If you apologize, do so sincerely
It’s not absolutely necessary to apologize if you legitimately feel you did nothing wrong. If you do offer an apology, however, make certain that it is for something you did or didn’t do. Avoid an apology that expresses regret for the way that others construed your words or deeds. That kind of apology comes off as simply passing the blame from yourself to the public. An apology must be viewed as sincere and not coerced if it is to be taken to heart.
Learn from the mistake moving forward
Obviously, something went awry for you to be in the situation of receiving bad press. Learn from it; this is an opportune time to address whatever that issue is/was so that it won’t happen again. Think of this as a chance to fix a blemish on your image so it doesn’t leave a permanent scar. You’d be wise to analyze the whys and wherefores of the gaffe to help you understand your audience and the way information is construed about your business. This knowledge will provide intel as to what your customers and potential customers care about and expect from you.
Take the opportunity to make positive change
It’s been said by some that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Well, whether you believe that or not, you must admit that this type of situation brings your business a certain measure of attention. It’s what you do with the attention that ultimately matters. Beyond situational damage control, you can use the bad publicity experience to make the proverbial lemonade out of lemons. Think long and hard about what your offended or outraged audience may have really been saying. What steps can you take within your company to be more of what they admire and less of what they object to? Look into promoting causes they support, communicating more clearly and being a more transparent business. Your customers will appreciate that you value their opinions.
A publicity gaffe can cause real headaches for your business. The good news is that there are steps you can take to ameliorate the damage to your company’s reputation. And, if you play your cards right by taking the opportunity to learn more about your audience, you can even come away looking better than you did before the whole thing erupted.
How would your business fare against a publicity gaffe?
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