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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Handling Bad Press

I recently read an article by Philadelphia attorney Neil Murray about the recall of a product that I personally have used. Here’s a portion of the article:

“On January 6, 2011, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced that the Triad Group notified doctors and patients that alcohol swabs, alcohol pads and alcohol swab sticks, which were sold under a variety of brand names, were being recalled. These products were recalled after it was discovered that they were contaminated by a bacteria, Bacillus cereus, which can cause serious and potentially life-threatening infections.” [read more]

From my perspective as a consumer, I was shaken that this medical product was unsafe. As a marketer, I started thinking about the challenges businesses face when they must address recalls and similar issues in this age of rapid dissemination of information.

At some point in their lives, almost all business owners or managers will have to deal with negative publicity. This might come in the form of a product recall that hits the national news or it could be an unhappy client posting a review on Google Places, Facebook or any number of other sites. Whatever form it comes in, reputation management should be part of your plan.

In today’s information-based world, bad press stays out there on the Internet. The wider the original net was cast, the harder it can be to counter the after-effects. The level of response depends on the type and severity of the negative publicity. Here are a few things to consider when you put together your response plan:
  1. You absolutely must have a plan ahead of time. If one of your products is recalled, you will have very little time to consider options before the news spreads and you are forced to respond. A timely and proactive response will allow consumers to see that you “get it” and are working toward a resolution.
  2. Respond, you must. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away and can make it significantly worse.
  3. Attempts to cover errors can be much worse than admitting the error and announcing your firm’s action plan to deal with the problem.
  4. Your response should match the scope of the original issue. As an example, for a major national product recall, your firm’s survival may be at stake and this should be an “all hands on deck” response. For a negative online review, you might respond directly to the reviewer with a public commitment to resolve their complaint (i.e., we’re sorry you didn’t like the product, here’s your money back).
  5. Be proactive – don’t wait for the complaints to come in. Invite all customers to post reviews and let them know you value their opinions. Build your community now. The folks who love you and your product/service will frequently step up and defend your firm if someone does post a negative comment. Most consumers are savvy enough to recognize that one or two extremely high or low reviews are probably outliers and should be ignored.

Your plan should be developed by a team that includes senior management and your marketing and PR folks. It wouldn’t hurt to have an attorney review the plan and provide suggestions for minimizing liability. Various scenarios/contingencies should be considered.

We’d love to hear how you have dealt with negative publicity. Comment and let us know. If you have additional questions, contact us directly at

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