One of the most stressful and potentially damaging situations that can occur when running your own business is receiving negative attention from the press or getting thrust into a negative story through no fault of your own. A public relations crisis can hurt a business’s reputation, as well as that of its owner. In some instances, negative press can force a business to close its doors permanently. Thankfully, in many cases the damage and long-term impact of negative media reports can be mitigated if the business is prepared with a plan outlining how to manage a crisis.
The Lance Armstrong scandal and his interview with Oprah offer lessons for business owners who face an image or reputation crisis. Armstrong admitted that he used performance enhancing drugs throughout his career, and as a result his brand has been severely damaged. The larger problem in this case is that his career and business was built over many years was based on a series of lies and deceptions. There are multiple actions he must take if he expects to ever rebuild his brand, but it is unlikely that he will ever be able to completely recover in the eyes of all his former fans.
Have Good Relationships
There are several approaches a business or businessperson can take to rehabilitate their reputation if it has been damaged. Small businesses have fewer and closer relationships, allowing for the process of forgiveness to work more rapidly. If a business or business owner has built up enough goodwill over time and isn’t facing serious charges or issues, the prospects for forgiveness are very promising.
Having good relationships with members of the media is also key. These relationships are built over time and if a problem develops, they can play a vital role in getting the business owner’s side of the story out. Having this option and the ability to speak with members of the media that are familiar with you and your business can make a bad situation manageable.
The rebuilding process must start with a commitment to honesty. A business owner must be truthful and answer hard questions. Second, a business owner must come completely clean. He or she has to admit to what has been done and take full responsibility for it. A media interview on Oprah may not be the best place to start or the right approach but promoting the business and its positive aspects such as years in business, charity involvement, and economic impact in the media can be effective. Positive stories in the news will help to jump start the recovery process.
Americans and most customers are forgiving, but the owner must face the charges that are presented and accept the punishment. Businesspeople need to build and maintain reservoirs of goodwill through satisfied customers, social media followers, and even the media. In the event of a crisis, they can be called upon to relate positive messages via social media (testimonials) or in media interviews. An important additional step is to be patient, and take the appropriate steps to rebuild the damaged image. If this is done in a proactive way and messages are communicated thoughtfully, a positive perception can be reestablished.
Have a Plan in Place
Businesses need to have a plan in advance with a communication strategy. When a crisis happens it must be addressed in a timely way. Sometimes it will call for direct communication with the media; other times a deliberate “wait and see” approach may be more appropriate. Issuing a statement will often provide the media with enough information, allowing time for review of the situation and making necessary plans. Understand, the media does not want to wait for your story so if you don’t provide information rapidly, they will look for other sources. At all costs, never answer a member of the media’s question with “no comment.” Avoiding or hiding from answering a question presents the perception of guilt or wrongdoing. A statement or press release should be provided at a minimum.
More than one media appearance may not be the best option. Most businesses don’t experience problems that involve years of lying and denial. Small businesses in crisis situations can usually apologize for what was done wrong, communicate with clients about a situation, and accept the blame. Strategies such as offering discounts or added value to their products or services can reflect a business’s true character and sincerity.
There are several key points that businesspeople can take away from the Lance Armstrong scandal. The first is to be honest. Don’t lie or commit acts that will hurt your credibility and reputation. Second have a mission statement that reflects honesty and abide by it. Lastly, have a communication plan prepared in the event of a crisis. Understanding how to react and how you will communicate with the media, customers, your employees and the marketplace is key to effectively moving past the incident.
Bill Corbett, Jr., is president of Corbett Public Relations, Inc., a leading media relations, social media and personal branding consulting firm. For more information, visit www.corbettpr.com or his blog, www.corbettprblog.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.