Today, we feature an excerpt from the book, The Public Relations Handbook. This section of the book on how to deal with negative publicity is written by Jonathan Dedmon of The Dilenschneider Group.
Invariably, a company or organization will experience bad news, resulting in negative publicity. Possible reasons can include:
- Poor revenue or earnings
- Product recalls
- Consumer health and safety issues
- Plant closures or layoffs
- Attacks by politicians and non-governmental organizations
- Accidents causing employee deaths or serious injuries
- Attacks by activist investors questioning the overall company strategy and its management
- Environmental issues
- Worker conditions and sourcing, particularly in the developing world
It is important to acknowledge the facts of the situation versus trying to “spin” them for short-term gain; once again, credibility and trust are your most important assets. And remember that relations with the media need to be viewed as a long-term game. If you spin the facts, then when there is good news, will you be believed or trusted?
Several other tips on dealing with a negative media situation:
Identify how much traction the story is getting. Do not make more of your denial than is warranted, as it creates the equivalent of being hit by a truck and then having the truck back up over you. To the extent possible, make it a one-day story and respond with equivalency—what is needed but not more than the story deserves.
- Articulate bold, positive steps you are taking to fix the problem.
- Don’t be argumentative. As longtime Republican political operative Bill Greener aptly put it, quoting others: “Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”
- Don’t repeat negative or inflammatory language from the reporter. Even a denial using such language can be repeated as from you in the story.
- A corollary to that is to take the high road. As former first lady Michelle Obama put it: “When they go low, we go high.”
- PROTECT THE RECORD. If you make a mistake, correct it. If the reporter makes a mistake, ask for a correction. While few people read the small corrections in newspapers, by getting one released, you will ensure it is recorded in digital space, frequently even in the online version of the story.
Last, recognize that news stories need a villain and that corporations are rarely viewed as being on the side of the angels. Internationally renowned political scientist and management scholar and chancellor of Vanderbilt University Daniel Diermeier notes in his excellent book, Reputation Rules, “Executives operate under the mistaken belief that the public trusts them. But CEOs are among the least trusted professions, just barely ahead of used-car dealers and politicians.”
About the Editor of The Public Relations Handbook:
Robert L. Dilenschneider formed The Dilenschneider Group in October, 1991. Headquartered in New York and Chicago, the Firm provides strategic advice and counsel to Fortune 500 companies and leading families and individuals around the world, with experience in fields ranging from mergers and acquisitions and crisis communications to marketing, government affairs and international media.
Prior to forming his own firm, Dilenschneider served as president and chief executive officer of Hill and Knowlton, Inc. from 1986 to 1991, tripling that Firm’s revenues to nearly $200 million and delivering more than $30 million in profit. Dilenschneider was with that organization for nearly 25 years. Dilenschneider started in public relations in 1967 in New York, shortly after receiving an MA in journalism from Ohio State University, and a BA from the University of Notre Dame. For more information, please visit
Jonathan Dedmon is a Principal of The Dilenschneider Group with more than forty-five years’ experience in the media and agency public relations and marketing communications, including twenty-eight years with The Dilenschneider Group in Chicago. During his public relations and marketing communications career, Mr. Dedmon has worked across a variety of industries, including real estate, architecture and construction, legal affairs, financial services, education, energy, manufacturing, transportation, environmental services, healthcare, food and agriculture, and consumer products. He also has worked with e-commerce clients and with a number of trade associations and in education and the arts. For more information, please visit