Five Steps to Thrive when Bad PR Happens

March 11th, 2013 by Rich Christiansen

This past week I got an urgent email from a college of mine who had just received notification of a caustic article regarding his industry and sector on the front cover of The Wall Street Journal. Although it did not call him out by name it did call out his primary competitor and somewhat poster his career as being in an erroneous industry.

The first reaction of my college was to want to jump in and to make comments and boo and protect the industry and protect his name. With great wisdom the other peers on the email counseled him not to do that.

As I thought of this situation I recalled another great tragedy with incredible negative press that should have quite frankly devastated an entire industry. Everyone knows that I love to climb in the Himalayas at altitude and indeed in 1996 the greatest tragedy in the history of that mountain occurred. Two very famous climbers that led probably the best-known guiding services, Mountain Madness by Scott Fischer and The Adventure Consultants led by Rob Hall, were at the very center of this crucible event. A terrible storm hit, they broke several of their rules, and many climbers died on the mountain including these famous guides. Jon Krakauer wrote a book called Into Thin Air, a best-selling book that documented this terrible tragedy.

What was the result for the mountain climbing industry? The result was even after this documented tragedy came to light several other agencies stepped in and focused on their own safety and success rate. What do you think happened? They ended up thriving. A few examples are Alpine Ascents led by Todd Burleson and Himalayan Experience led by Russell Brice. The Discovery Channel even created a special program documenting Russell’s teams. This only added more fuel to the fire.

I showed this example to my college and as well as five crucial steps that were necessary to execute when bad press happens. I think this is also very applicable and appropriate for you to take advantage of these rules.

Number One: Resist the urge to jump in
Your first reaction is going to be to jump in the fray and get right in the middle of everything. My wise uncle used to say, “When you wrestle with pigs you’re going to get mud on you.” It’s very important that you resist the urge to jump right into the middle.

Number Two: Differentiate your company
Identify what went wrong within the industry. Pinpoint the problem and make sure you clearly show your client how your company differentiates from those problems. Bring it up every time you speak, every time you present, and every time you see a client. Indeed, that was the key things that these Everest companies did that helped them to survive. Every time they dialoged they didn’t bring up the tragedy, as a matter of fact they avoided it. But what they did is say, “We are a safe company. Here is our safety record. Here are our rules and this is how we handle difficult situations.” Make sure you differentiate on your key value propositions especially where your competitors failed.

Number Three: Strategize with your trusted network
Just like my associate did, the first thing he did was reach out to his network and with their help came up with a strategy and plan of how to posture and position. Take a few breaths as you back out of the fray and come up with a really solid game plan of how you can advance forward as everyone else is retracting.

Number Four: Put on your white hat
Putting on your white hat means never making slanderous, pointing, or cutting statements over what occurred. As a matter of fact avoid the topic and whenever it is brought up and thrown right in your face you can make comments such as, “Oh, well in the case of Rob Hall, he was an incredible climber. I have nothing but respect for him. My heart and best wishes go out to him and his family at this difficult time. You’ll find that we’re a company that focuses on safety and on safe success.” ?Indeed, put on your white hat.

Number Five: Use the publicity to your advantage
A New York politician said, “I don’t care what you say about me, just make sure you spell my name properly.” And indeed that’s the fifth point. Oftentimes press, even the bad stuff, can be beneficial. So don’t get right in the middle of the fray where you end up getting mud all over you, but use the renewed interest in your favor. Any type of press, PR, and exposure can be good for the industry. Just make sure that if your name is used they highlight you properly and they spell your name properly. That means links to your website, Twitter, Facebook, all the social media pages, and other various ways to contact you.

Indeed, what could seem like a very negative, caustic event can end up being one of the best possible things for you. I’m confidant that applying these five steps when negative PR happens, rather than going out and hiding under a rock or rather than jumping in front of the bus, can advance your business rapidly. Indeed, as we talked about the Seven Moments of Impact several posts ago, anytime there’s chaos such as this it’s usually an incredible opportunity to advance your business. Take advantage of the negative PR, as a matter of fact, draft off of press, whether it’s positive or negative and your business will do nothing but thrive.

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