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August 20, 2012

They Say "There's No Such Thing as Bad Press" — But One PR Expert Begs to Differ: Vickery Explains How Bad Press Can Get You Canned, Tarnish a Reputation and Destroy a Brand

In the spotlight: Jennifer Vickery, CEO and President, National Strategies Public Relations

Whether it's Yoplait Greek Yogurt defending accusations that its yogurt is neither Greek nor yogurt, a NASCAR driver caught with drugs in his system, Chick-fil-a publicly defining their viewpoint on marriage, or Bank of America confirming lay-offs, bad press coverage hits newsstands daily and, in most cases, cannot be avoided. What can (and should) be avoided, however, is defending the idea that just being mentioned in the media, even in a negative light, is ultimately doing greater good for your business.

Public Relations expert and coach, Jennifer Vickery, President/CEO of National Strategies Public Relations, breaks down the definition of bad press, its varying levels and what organizations can do to manage how they are perceived in the media.

"Bad press can be damaging on many levels and can affect internal morale, sales and revenue, client stream, alliances and more," says Vickery. "Bottom line, organizations need to do everything they can to manage their reputations and their brand in the event of a negative news story. If managed poorly, bad press, combined with hasty reactions and haphazard handling can actually shut a once-successful company down."

Vickery defines the following forms of bad press:

The 'current status' bad press – Such stories, like Bank of America confirming lay-offs, cost-cuttings and branch closings, is unavoidable. It must truthfully address its 'current status', regardless of how it will be interpreted. What businesses should do if they are faced with negative news to share which is a) confirmed or public knowledge b) innocent in nature (meaning a result of circumstances outside of its control i.e. the economy) is manage this information. Above all, honesty must be exercised. Share with your employees and then the public how you got into this position. Create the picture of the organization's mission, culture and how they are affected by this news. Also, more importantly communicate what you are doing to ensure it does not happen again.

All too often, companies hide or avoid / ignore the big issues and hope they will escape the questions and bad press. Accept that the news story will be printed and face it head on, especially when there are extenuating circumstances. Keep in mind that it is how you handle bad press that will determine your business's future.

The 'uh-oh' bad press — When a famous athlete is caught using drugs, or a major company has a security breach exposing thousands of customers' personal information, this is an 'uh-oh' moment. Whether it was intentional or not, someone is at fault. Fortunately, if it is a one-time mistake, the public can usually get past it (as long as no one has been deliberately hurt) with the proper communication management. We are all human after all.

Again, what organizations must do is admit the truth. Explain how it happened, why it happened, who is to blame and how it is being rectified. Admitting the truth is the golden rule here and cannot be emphasized enough.

This type of bad press usually takes longer to manage since there was some wrong-doing involved. All forms of communication, from the company's website, social media, newsletters, blogs and speeches need to follow concise consistent messaging. It's also important to leave the public with a positive thought about the steps being made to mend relationships / help your spokesperson.

The catastrophic bad press — If Tiger Woods can recover from his wrongdoings, with proper management, there is hope for just about everyone. In the event of a completely catastrophic and incredibly public crisis, communication management is key.

Not admitting the truth from that start, offering "no comment", refusing to apologize or not being up-front or available are all ingredients for further destruction. A company can collapse simply because it either was not sure how to handle a crisis, took too long to act, didn't want to lean on someone for help during the crisis, or simply didn't show it cared.

"While there is such a thing as bad press, the main take away should be that good press can come out of it, provided the situation is handled properly," continues Vickery. "Businesses can excel with the right reaction. In fact, they can sometimes even improve their reputations just by taking the right approach. Simply put, communicate quickly, clearly and honestly at all times and do everything you can to connect with anyone who was affected. If you do not, contrary to popular belief, it can always get worse!"

Jennifer Vickery is CEO/President of National Strategies Public Relations and is considered a PR Coach and Expert. She advises organizations and professional individuals on public relations efforts and campaigns with an emphasis on the growing trend of social media. National Strategies Public Relations (NSPR) is a national public relations agency based out of Tampa, Florida.

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