United Airlines is a multi-billion-dollar company which carries millions of passengers a year, but it only took one incident to send the company’s reputation into a downward spiral. When Chicago Department of Aviation security officers dragged uncooperative passenger David Dao off a United Flight in April, the negative publicity triggered a public relations nightmare for United. Immediately after the incident, 47 percent of the airline’s passengers said they would consider rebooking with United for their next flight. A month later, in the wake of weeks of negative reporting, this figure had dropped to 22 percent. Now United is struggling to rebuild its reputation.
Unfortunately, any company or brand can find themselves blindsided by a negative incident that escalates into a PR disaster. The good news is, if this happens to you, there are some steps you can take to salvage your reputation and even turn negative publicity into a positive opportunity. Here are three examples that demonstrate strategies for putting a positive spin on negative PR.
While it may be tempting to avoid negative publicity and hope that it will go away, it’s best to take rapid corrective action due to the speed with which information spreads online, advises the Marketing Donut. In some cases, taking appropriate action may mean disputing factually incorrect claims. In others, it may mean apologizing and explaining what your company is doing to fix the problem.
A classic case study of a company that did the right thing in the face of a PR crisis is Johnson & Johnson’s response to the Chicago Tylenol murders. In 1982, seven consumers died after taking Extra Strength Tylenol from bottles that had been tampered with and laced with potassium cyanide. When authorities realized the deaths were connected, Johnson & Johnson responded by issuing warnings to area hospitals and temporarily halting production and advertising of Tylenol. The company worked with law enforcement agencies to identify those responsible and offered a $100,000 reward for information. After the crisis had subsided, Johnson & Johnson reintroduced Tylenol in tamper-resistant bottles with $2.50-off coupons. Johnson & Johnson won positive PR for its proactive response, and the case is considered a prime example of how to manage negative publicity.
Stand Behind Your Defenders: Deutsche Bank
When defending yourself against accusations, your defense will be more persuasive if it comes from other sources apart from your own company. Cite case studies and statistics to lend your statements objectivity. Solicit testimonials from satisfied customers and authority figures or celebrities.
Deutsche Bank is an example of a company that used this strategy successfully. Following news that Deutsche Bank was about to be hit by a multi-billion-dollar penalty by the U.S. government for misleading investors in the run-up to the subprime mortgage crisis, the bank’s stock reached record lows last September. In response, German business leaders from firms such as BASF, Daimler, Siemenst and Munich Re rallied around Deutsche Bank, issuing public statements of support. This helped restore investor confidence, and within a quarter after Deutsche Bank reached a settlement with the U.S. government, its stock had gradually recovered.
Create Positive Press: Amway
Another effective way to counter negative publicity is by promoting positive content. This is especially important to manage your reputation on search engines. If you know what search terms might be hurting your reputation, you can go on an SEO offensive to promote positive content about your company.
One company that has used this strategy effectively is Amway. Amway’s direct selling model has at times been misportrayed as a pyramid scheme. To correct this misconception, the company has conducted a campaign to educate consumers about how its business model actually works, using social media channels such as the Amway Twitter feed to promote informative content. By adopting this strategy, Amway has turned potentially negative PR into an opportunity to generate positive publicity.