As an entrepreneur, you put your heart and soul into launching your startup. You are like a parent who raised a child, and now it is time for her to enter the real world. As amazing as you think she is and as much as you want to protect her, it is now time for her to stand on her own. Once your company enters the real world, people – especially journalists and analysts - are going to have opinions about it, and you are not always going to like those opinions. Sometimes those writing about your company may even get the facts wrong. Bad press is inevitable. Here are a few ways to respond when it happens to you. And no, making comments about targeting journalists who write negative articles about your company is never a good idea. (Case and point: Uber's Emil Michael comments about Sarah Lacy.).
When the facts are wrong,it’s generally an easy fix. Media and industry analysts will usually correct factual errors once you politely contact them to ask for a correction. “Politely” is the key focus when making this request. Don’t send an angry email that makes the recipient feel like you are accusing him of making a mistake on purpose. Instead, thank the person for taking the time to write about your company, offer to share the article via your social media channels to help spread the reach, and mention that you’d appreciate if the mistake could be updated when it is convenient. Correction requests are often resolved within 24 hours, sometimes within minutes.
When an opinion is unfavorable, the situation can be more difficult to correct. The important thing is not to have an emotional reaction. The last thing you want to do is burn a bridge with someone who holds weight in your industry. Look at the opinion from an objective standpoint. Is the point the person is making valid? Could you learn from the criticism? If yes, thank that person for bringing the point to your attention. If it is something you can fix or makes sense to change, do so and let the person know you took his opinion seriously. If the opinion is off-base, offer to further educate him via a phone call or in-person meeting. The poor opinion may have been the result of a simple misunderstanding. Not everyone will be willing to listen, but you won’t know if you can change an opinion unless you try.
When a quote is taken out of context, it can end up reflecting poorly on you or your company. This can be frustrating, especially since you may have said what was printed, but you just didn’t mean it the way it comes across in the report or article. The appropriate course of action is a combination of the first two examples. First, determine the level of damage. Is the quote only slightly taken out of context? If it doesn’t contradict a core belief or key company message, let it go. You may be overthinking it. If your words were seriously twisted, send a polite email explaining the error and request that the article be updated. If that doesn’t work, offer to explain your position over the phone or in person.
When a negative story is true, it’s time to enter crisis mode. Maybe a disgruntled customer or employee decides to speak out publically, you had a security breach or your product malfunctioned in a highly visible manner. Any of these scenarios should trigger your crisis communications plan.
Bad press is a bummer, but it is not the end of the world. As long as the good press outweighs the bad, an occasional negative article only makes you and your company look human – no individual or business is perfect. Some even consider bad press a badge of honor. After all, it means your company is valid enough to be criticized by top industry professionals. That is why it is so important to invest in an ongoing PR program that continuously shines a positive spotlight on your company. When there is so much of the good to focus on, prospects and industry influencers are rarely influenced by one or two negative pieces.