Handling Unfavorable Publicity

Handling Unfavorable Publicity

Handling unfavorable publicity means being honest with consumers and putting public interest first.


List the steps firms can take to implement an effective crisis communication plan


Key Points

  • Being prepared for harmful situations is imperative. It is important to map out potential negative scenarios and have a PR plan for each one. It is important to have a crisis management team who can handle these situations.
  • Protecting the integrity and reputation of an organization is important, but putting public interest ahead of the organization’s interest is key to gaining consumer trust and loyalty.
  • A media reaction plan should include a company media representative as part of the crisis management team. Firms need to show that they are working toward positive resolutions to deflect the negative publicity.

Key Terms

  • Crisis Management Team: A team in an organization that prepares contingency plans in advance, as part of a crisis management plan.

Crisis communication planning can help a firm deal effectively with unexpected disasters, emergencies, or other unusual events that may lead to unfavorable publicity. Effectively responding to any crisis means both controlling the public narrative and ameliorating any harm done, whether tangibly or to a company’s reputation.

The following principles represent best practices in crisis management: be prepared, do the right thing, communicate quickly and accurately, and follow up.

Be Prepared

Although emergencies are by their very nature unpredictable, it is possible to list and prepare for negative scenarios that might occur. It is also possible to set up a communication system that can be activated in almost any emergency situation.

Do the Right Thing

In any emergency situation, it is imperative that a company put the public interest ahead of the organization’s interest. The company’s first responsibility is to the safety and well-being of the people involved. Once safety has been restored, the company needs to face the public and face the facts. The company should never try to minimize a serious problem or “smooth it over” in the hope that no one will notice. Conversely, don’t blow minor incidents out of proportion or allow others to do so. Social media has accelerated the speed at which information about a crisis can spread; the viral affect of social networks such as Twitter means that stakeholders can break news faster than traditional media, which makes managing a crisis harder. However, a company should not speculate; if they don’t know the facts, they should say so and promise to get back to the media as soon as possible.


Tylenol Medication: Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol medication was once laced with cyanide. In time, Johnson & Johnson learned to deal with the negative public relations.

Communicate Quickly and Accurately

Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the process forward to resolution, even in the face of antagonistic news media. Media representatives have an obligation to provide reliable information to their audiences, and they will get that information whether or not company spokespeople cooperate; if a company will not comment on the situation, someone else will. Serving as one of the major sources of media information in a crisis is a means of maintaining control. If necessary, activate the crisis management team. Act quickly and spare no expense in distributing the information you determine the media and others should have.

Follow Up

It is important to make amends to those affected and then do whatever is necessary to restore the organization’s reputation in the community. It is helpful to perform an act of goodwill during or immediately after a crisis when possible. Internal policies should be changed to minimize a repeat of the crisis situation. The crisis communication plan should be revised based on any new learnings.