Public Relations

How To Respond to Negative Media Coverage

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Everyone has heard the phrase “all publicity is good publicity”.  And while this being true would make business’ lives a lot easier, the reality is that sometimes negative media coverage is just that… Negative.

But just because your company has been mentioned or framed in a less than appealing light, it doesn’t mean that all is lost. There are many different types of negative media attention, with some being framed as jokes and some appearing like hard-hitting journalism. Each scenario requires careful consideration and differing approaches.

The following steps are what you should take when faced with negative media coverage in order to smooth everything out:

Examine the Situation

The first step when responding to negative media coverage is to analyze what the specific piece of news or media is saying and how they are saying it. The place a negative comment appears, and in what manner and tone it appears is highly important to how a company should react. 

For example, if an article making fun of a brand appears on a satire news site, and is written by a writer who’s past track record doesn’t show many serious articles, the best plan of attack may be to take it on the cheek and not do anything at all.

On the other hand, if there are false or negative accusations being included in a serious journalist’s article in a national publication, that is a situation that should be approached and mediated gracefully. 

Address the Problem

If a company finds themselves in a situation as described above, the most important thing to do first is to acknowledge the negative coverage in a polite, understanding manner.

Getting defensive furthers the narrative that your company is in the wrong so be sure to be graceful and open to having a conversation with the reporter, influencer, or host that the negative commentary is coming from.

Acknowledge their concerns in an email or phone call, and see if they have any specific questions you can answer for them. 

Provide Clarity & Context

It’s common for negative media coverage to result from a misconstrued comment that spiraled down the grapevine to become a larger beast than it was ever meant to be.

If this is the case, correct any misinterpretations that stray from your company’s truth and be open to admitting any mistakes that may have occurred. Continuing to try and hide even a minor hiccup can come across as secretive and conveys the message that you are hiding much bigger things.

Transparency is key so when clearing the air, while it is important to put the positive forward, it’s also important to give the full story in context.

That being said, any messages that are inherently false should be corrected. Provide the journalist with the facts and ask them, nicely, to edit their article.

It is also beneficial to provide a spokesperson that can give a face and voice to your company. Revealing the man behind the curtain so to speak throws on an additional layer of trust and comfortability with the public. The company becomes less of an unknown and more public facing.

Media Training

Before putting a spokesperson in front of a reporter make sure they are prepared for questions of all kinds.

Most of the time in a crisis the reporter is looking for answers, and won’t pull punches. Prepare your executives with the tools they need to effectively communicate your message no matter the questions. Train them ahead of the time on the techniques necessary to project confidence and pivot away from harder questions towards more positive talking points.

Identify Main Points

Beyond addressing the issue at hand and providing clarification to negative media coverage, it’s also important to identify what key messages you’d like to convey to the public.

Figure out what’s important to you as a company at the present moment and lock in on the main messages you want people to understand – and remember in case any other negative news surfaces.

These points can include anything from company mission to ethical practices, whatever is a key driver in showing the positives around your company and swaying the current negative sentiment. This will help you regain control of the narrative.

Address Stakeholders Concerns

Apart from winning back the approval of consumers and prospects, stakeholders such as employees and investors are another key group to consider when handling negative media coverage.

Since stakeholders differ from company to company the approach changes, but the most important thing to consider no matter what industry you’re in is what are the main goals of your stakeholders and what concerns do they now have.

Once you know the answers to those two questions you can assuage their concerns, reassuring them that the situation is being handled and will dissipate in no time.

Monitor Social Media

Social media has become a giant part of how the public communicates whether it be on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, or another platform. Because of this, what’s being said on these channels greatly affects public sentiment.

Even though social media is a bit different than traditional media since creators are much less likely to take down content than journalists are to edit their articles, it is still possible (and essential) to address what is being said.

Companies should monitor and address negative content and comments sparingly, and when they do the approach should lean towards a friendly tone that is looking to have a conversation instead of trying to defensively shut down users. Social media is so popular because it’s a place for people to express how they feel, instead of trying to take that away from them, express your side of things.

If there is negative content around a product that a user or influencer received, brands can also reach out to those creators and offer to send a new one free of charge as a way to make up for the previous experience.

Apologize if Necessary

Sometimes negative media attention is warranted. Whether the company meant to or not things can come across as offensive, and situations can be handled incorrectly.

It’s important to be aware and open enough to admit when you as a company are the ones in the wrong and issue a sincere apology.

Make sure that the statement you give is heartfelt and addresses the problem at hand. An apology that is too general and doesn’t seem to address the root of the matter can actually make things worse, so be sure to put thought into the words being said.

Take Proactive Measures

Once you’ve determined how to handle the current problem, a good practice is to use it to prepare for and try to prevent any future issues.

Take steps to show how you will address concerts moving forward and share your commitment to this change with the public. It’s good to tie off the end of negative media coverage with a positive, forward looking message that will reassure everyone that the company cares about making things right and staying that way. 

While transparency is essential, it is sometimes difficult to be as open as you would like with the public due to red tape and legal boundaries in the company.

The territory between legal considerations and transparent communications can be a fine line to walk so it’s helpful to consult legal advisors to find the right balance.

Identify what you can legally talk about and find a way to say it in as open a manner as possible.

Monitor Public Sentiment

In the aftermath of negative media coverage it is important to keep an eye on public sentiment. Community opinions are constantly evolving and as they do companies need to be able to adjust their strategy accordingly. 

Even if the crisis has been resolved, it’s key to know what consumers are thinking and feeling in order to stay on top of trends and prevent further negative output. By monitoring public sentiment, companies can identify potential challenges and adjust their approach in real-time.

Schedule Follow-up Communication

Rebuilding trust and restoring your reputation is the goal when faced with negative media coverage. 

Make sure to be following up with updates to key stakeholders, and continue to reinforce the company’s key narratives and mission to the public.

Our Approach at Channel V Media

Responding to negative media coverage is just one aspect of our crisis communications services.

We work closely with organizations to develop a comprehensive crisis plan, outlining key messages, identifying potential vulnerabilities, and establishing a clear chain of communication to ensure a unified response if negative coverage does surface.

If a company is faced with an immediate concern, whether it be the result of mistakes, aggressive competitor tactics, misinformed reporting, changing consumer sentiment, legal issues, or other causes, our team uses the plan we have established to correct and counteract narratives in the market. 

This can involve everything from media relations management to stakeholder communication to media training for spokespeople. We will also work to continue restoring reputation and communication with the public after the immediate issue is resolved.

Leave a Reply