How to deal with bad publicity for your business

Three ways to see out a storm of bad publicity


1) Communicate, communicate, communicate

When the US journal Science published a damning report on the safety of farmed Scottish salmon, seafood restaurant chain Loch Fyne and its owner Mark Derry were immediately in the media firing line. As the press seized on the potential dangers of eating Scottish salmon, Derry prepared to be tarred with the same brush, even though his restaurants only used Freedom Food accredited salmon. But rather than keep his head down and hope for the best or simply state it was nothing to do with him, Derry made every effort to speak to the media, continually stressing the safety of the food served in his 23-restaurant chain. By taking a strong position and being prepared to defend it to the press, the furore soon blew over.

2) Accentuate the positives

In the life-cycle of any business there’s going to be difficult and often unpopular decisions to make, and if these decisions affect your employees there’s an even larger potential for adverse publicity.

James Dyson made the controversial decision to cut more than 600 jobs from his Malmesbury production line and shift the making of both his vacuum cleaners and washing machines to Malaysia. The move made huge economic sense, but clearly would have a major impact on his workers and he was attacked by sections of the media. Rather than trying to elicit sympathy for the difficult decision he had to make (not a wise tack considering his own personal wealth), Dyson chose instead to focus on the fact that the move had secured twice as many jobs and would help further expansion of Dyson, therefore providing the opportunity for more in the future.

As the saying goes, ‘sunshine is the best disinfectant’ and by concentring on the positive aspects of the story, eventually the storm subsided and Dyson emerged relatively unscathed.

3) Be prepared to bite the bullet

If you’re launching a new product line on the back of an innovative new feature you’d better make sure that feature actually works and if it doesn’t, don’t apply a band-aid when a complete overhaul’s required. That was the problem for washing machine maker Monotub which claimed its Titan model, invented by Martin Myerscough, was easier to load thanks to an innovative removable tub which could take a bigger bundle of washing than competitors and would not flood when you opened the door. After huge delays in production, the product sadly did not live up to its promise, and was slated by consumer magazine Which?.

Rather than come clean, admit the product was not good enough and go back to the drawing board, Monotub tried a number of quick-fire modifications under the same product name, which simply could not persuade stockists or consumers it was worth buying. Though choosing the overhaul option would have cost, the price of not doing so was much higher. Share prices in the AIM-listed company plummeted and eventually Monotub was sold to its founder for just £1.

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