Negative publicity travels fast. If you don’t act quickly, bad press can sink your business reputation in no time.

No business is immune from negative publicity, either. Whether it’s a bad customer review, a biased news article, or a stupid gaffe that got caught on camera, the potential damage caused by bad publicity is limitless. In the age of viral news, small mistakes captured online can quickly grow into a huge problem.

So how do you respond when bad press comes knocking at your door? By being prepared.

Seven Steps to Respond to Negative Publicity

It’s never easy to deal with negative information about your business, but it is something that must be done—and done well. Mismanaging things will usually make the situation worse.

Here are the steps to position your business for success.

  1. Identify negative publicity quickly
  2. Correct any false information
  3. Act before the problem escalates
  4. Own up to your mistakes
  5. Explain how you will fix the problem
  6. Share positive information about your company
  7. Get bad press removed from the web

Some of these steps are straightforward and most people can do them on their own. Others are going to be a lot trickier.

If at any point you are feeling overwhelmed or you hit a dead end, it can be worth talking to a professional online reputation management company. Companies like Better Reputation, our top pick, will shoulder the burden of responding to angry reviews, getting negative content taken down, and restoring the health of your personal or brand image.

The Easy Part of Responding to Negative Publicity

Knowing right away when your company faces bad press is very important. Luckily, this is also one of the easiest things you can do.

Start by setting up Google Alerts for your company name, products, and services. It’s simple to do, and you’ll get an email notification anytime your company is mentioned online. Armed with this information, you can quickly take steps to mitigate the damage from the negative publicity. 

Of course, the scope of the negative publicity will dictate your next step. A single negative customer review requires a different response than, say, a full-blown product malfunction.  

Managing negative reviews is a key part of managing your online reputation. Addressing the negative reviews quickly and professionally helps neutralize the sting and shows your company is responsive to customer complaints.

But when your negative publicity is bigger than a bad review or two, your response will require more consideration. As a general rule, the bigger the issue, the more complex and comprehensive your response must be.

Either way, it all begins by knowing when your business is mentioned in a negative light—and that’s not difficult to set up.

The Difficult Parts of Responding to Negative Publicity

Once you know about the negative publicity, you’ll have to act quickly to address it. Unless it is a straightforward negative online review, fixing the negative press is much harder to do than merely learning about it.

To achieve any kind of success, you’ll need a cohesive plan for moving forward. You’ll also need to craft a solution to whatever underlying problem caused the bad press. 

Then, you need to keep people—your customers, the press, the general public—aware of what you’re doing to resolve the issue. And finally, you’ll also want to start sharing positive news about your company to offset the negative publicity.

All of this is quite time-consuming and requires a certain level of expertise in public relations and crisis management. Most businesses don’t have that type of talent on their payroll.

If you don’t want to go it alone, there are many capable reputation management services like Better Reputation which can help you in your time of need. Alternatively, you could explore hiring an expungement lawyer, though that will likely be a slower and costlier option than using an online reputation management service.

Step 1: Identify Negative Publicity Quickly

One of the easiest ways to know when your business is getting negative mentions is to set up Google Alerts.

You can create as many separate alerts as you need. A great place to start is with alerts for your business name, products, and services.

Google Alerts setup screen

Anytime something you have an alert set for is mentioned online—whether good or bad—you’ll get an email notification that includes a summary of the content and a link to the source. You can choose how often to get notified—as it happens, once per day, or once per week.

We recommend choosing the “as it happens” option, since that will give you the most immediate notification of any mentions.

Google Alerts are way more efficient than trying to scan online sources for business mentions every single day.

Step 2: Correct Any False Information

If the negative publicity is based on inaccurate information, you should immediately take steps to contact the entity that shared the false information. Provide them with facts that prove their information is false, along with a polite—yet firm—request to remove the incorrect information.

Sometimes this will clear up the situation quickly and business life can go back to normal. In which case, you can stop right here.

Even after you’ve reached out to the source that published false information about you, you should focus on correcting any information that you can control.

Unfortunately, not all negative publicity is rooted in false information. Sometimes what is being claimed is true (or mostly true). When this happens, you’ll need to do more than just ask for the incorrect information to be deleted. Read on to find out what to do next.

Claim All of Your Business Profiles

Claiming your business profiles on social media and third-party review sites is a simple way to correct false information. Yet so many brands leave their profiles unclaimed.

For example, let’s say a story about your business spread because someone left a bad review on your Yelp page that went viral. But as it turns out, the customer made an honest mistake and wrote it about the wrong business.

Something like this could easily be fixed if you claimed your page. You’d be able to respond immediately and take the appropriate steps to remove that Yelp review.

Examples of profiles that you need to claim include:

  • Yelp
  • Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business)
  • Facebook Business Manager
  • G2
  • Yellow Pages
  • Angi
  • Glassdoor
Screenshot of Rocky's Crown Pub Google Business listing with an arrow pointing to the "Manage Now" button.
To claim your Google Business profile, just search for your business, select Own This Business in the listing, and click Manage Now.

The exact profiles you need to claim will vary based on your business type and industry. For example, a local contractor would likely need to focus more on Angi and Yellow Pages, whereas a B2B software company would need to claim its G2 profile.

Step 3: Act Before the Problem Escalates

Once you know about the negative publicity and confirm it is truthful, it’s very important not to bury your head in the sand, hoping it will all go away. It won’t.

It’s equally important, though, not to start responding willy-nilly. A knee-jerk response without a cohesive and well-thought-out plan, especially when you’re dealing with the press, will only make things worse. 

So before you do anything drastic, it’s important to take a step back to assess the situation. Responding quickly doesn’t mean that your first step should be a public response. Your first and fastest actions should be internal.

Craft a Detailed Response Plan

You need to take the time to put together a comprehensive response plan that will both guide your business internally and assist when engaging with external sources. 

This plan should include:

  • Details of the negative publicity and the underlying causation, so everyone in your company knows the facts.
  • Official and approved messaging to address the negative publicity, so everyone knows what to say if asked.
  • A point person to manage all the incoming communications, so your employees know where to direct inquiries.
  • An explanation of how you plan to resolve the underlying issues that caused the negative publicity, so people know the steps you’re taking and the timeline for taking them.

Once you have this plan in place, you must also make sure all your employees, managers, and C-level executives understand and are on board with the plan. What you don’t want is someone speaking to the public in a way that contradicts the established plan.

And you have to put this plan together and implement it quickly, before the negative publicity spins further out of control. 

Designing and executing this kind of crisis response plan is hard. Really hard. There are a lot of moving parts to manage, everything needs to happen as quickly as possible, and any misstep will make things worse.  

So unless your company is in the business of public relations, we recommend not trying to do this crucial step yourself. Instead, enlist the help of an online reputation management company to create and manage it for you.

Step 4: Own Up To Your Mistake

If the negative comments are true, you need to step up and take responsibility. Being defensive and giving excuses will only make things worse.

Instead, be transparent, accountable, and humble in your response. Acknowledge your mistakes, and accept responsibility for what happened. 

This is not the time to deny, waffle, or try to shift the blame. Always end with a sincere apology.

Businesses that are open and honest about mistakes fare far better than those that refuse to own up to things they’ve done wrong. Accountability is a crucial part of moving past the negativity.

We understand that this can be difficult for many business owners. It’s natural to take negative feedback or reviews personally. Seeing the problem through the eyes of your customers can also be challenging—especially if the negative feedback is unfair and doesn’t reflect your true customer service efforts. 

But remember, the customer may only deal with a small segment of your company—maybe only one or two people. These interactions may only last for a few minutes. Sometimes, this is all it takes to make a customer frustrated enough to leave a negative review.

If you can effectively view the situation from the customer’s perspective, it will improve your overall customer service performance. Blaming the customer or making excuses for what happened will not resolve anything.

Conversely, you shouldn’t jump to make big changes to your customer service based on one or two negative reviews. Making a small tweak or two to ensure the mistake doesn’t happen again is usually the best solution—unless you are receiving the same type of negative feedback repeatedly.

Step 5: Explain How You Will Fix the Issue

Consider this the plan within the plan. While we covered the creation of an overall response plan in Step 2, now is the time to dig deeper and address how you’re going to resolve the underlying issue that caused the problem in the first place.

The plan details will depend on the severity of the problem. A bad experience with customer service is far different than a malfunctioning product that injured or killed someone. Your plan on how to fix the situation will change accordingly.

You need to explain how your company is resolving the problem, and you need full transparency with the details. Now is not the time for vague explanations or opaque processes. You must make it crystal clear how you’re going to right the wrong.

Then, as you begin to execute your reparation plan, you need to keep people regularly updated on your progress. 

Be Transparent

Owning up to your mistakes and presenting a resolution isn’t even half of the battle. But it definitely helps your case if you’re transparent throughout the process.

Depending on the scope of the situation, you won’t be able to sweep certain things under the rug. While this doesn’t mean you should divulge every sensitive and intimate detail about yourself and your business, you shouldn’t try to hide things that will ultimately become public knowledge.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. If it’s going to take two months to fix an issue, don’t make a statement saying that everything will be fine in two weeks.

This level of detail and transparency can be overwhelming to many businesses. We highly recommend you enlist the help of experienced professionals to help you through this process.

Step 6: Share Positive Information About Your Business

Negative publicity isn’t going to disappear overnight, even with a bulletproof plan to address it. The bad information online could linger online indefinitely.

Your best strategy to minimize the impact of this negative publicity that won’t go away is to bury it deep in search results—where nobody looks. How to best accomplish this is to publish a lot of positive new content about your company.

There are a few different ways you can do this.

Incorporate It Into Your Response Plan

As part of your ongoing communications with the public about how you’re working to fix things, you should also take the opportunity to weave in positive information about your company.

You can showcase new social initiatives your business supports, charities your company is involved with, and other feel-good news that will land positively with the public. This kind of information shouldn’t overshadow your core plan communications, of course. 

But these mentions demonstrate that your business isn’t solely defined by the problems it currently faces.

Share Positive Stories Separately

Another way is to issue positive news completely separate from your crisis response plan. Whether it is via press releases or blog posts, this is your opportunity to generate new, standalone content that showcases your company in a truly positive light.

Incorporating good Search Engine Optimization (SEO) keywords and phrases into the copy is also a helpful strategy here. That makes it easier for Google to find and promote your quality content over the negative piece(s) attacking your reputation.

As these positive articles are published and picked up higher in the Google search results, the negative information is pushed further and further down the search results page. Eventually, with enough positive content, you’ll find that any negative information about your business is buried pages deep—where people rarely look.

Use Social Media To Promote Positive Content

Another way to highlight positive news about your business is to share it across your social media channels. 

Sharing links to your blog posts and creating original content on social channels reminds followers your business is more than just one bad incident. The more positive information you share, the sooner people will forget the negative past.

Step 7: Get Bad Press Removed From the Web

Once you’ve addressed the bad publicity and responded accordingly, you can begin taking steps to get negative news stories removed from the web.

Some of you might be wondering why this isn’t the first thing you should be doing. Here’s why.

Removing news articles from the internet is not easy. It’s a long and somewhat grueling process that doesn’t always have a high success rate.

So that’s why it’s important to respond quickly and try to paint your business and personal brand image in a more positive light. But once that’s over, you can start taking steps to get those stories removed from the web—as this will help prevent bad PR from today coming back to haunt you in the future.

You’ll have to request removals from each individual publication that shared the information about your brand. So start by compiling a list of every negative mention of you and your business that’s tied to this particular case of bad publicity. From there, you can begin the outreach process, asking them to take the story down or redact names from the article.

If that doesn’t work, there are alternative methods you can try. You can potentially get certain URLs de-indexed or bury them in the search results, making it difficult for people to find them when they’re searching for your business.

And if you hit a complete wall trying to get bad press removed, the next step is to get a professional involved. Online reputation management companies may be able to succeed, and if they can’t, they will be able to suppress the bad publicity. This is very difficult to do on your own, though it is often the only way you can fight back against bad press that publishers refuse to take down.