Turning Bad PR Around
There is no fix all solution to turn bad PR around. But there is one thing you can do when the rug seems to be pulled out from under you in the public arena: listen.
It feels counterintuitive but it is essential. Innovation and growth are not comfortable. They are not meant to be. They fluctuate between feeling like excitement and pure terror. Which is normal. But it’s only when we step outside what we believe, when we try to see our world, our brand, our lives through the eyes of someone else that we are truly capable of achieving something new and great in ourselves.
There is a wonderful story about the long serving CEO of General Motors, Alfred P. Sloan, who reigned at the company through much of the early/mid Twentieth Century. This is not a blanket endorsement of the man who certainly had his faults. But he did believe in the importance of dissent.
In one high level meeting when consensus had apparently been reached he said: “Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here…Then I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.”
Public push back is dissent. And the public should always have a seat at any brand’s decision table. When they don’t, or when they feel they don’t, if you are important enough, they will push back. If you are unimportant, they simply won’t engage in the first place.
It may not be at the time of your choosing, or in a way that you like, but it is an opportunity to better connect with the very people you are serving or could be serving. Ask yourself the hard questions. Even if you disagree with everything your most dissatissfied customer is saying, carve out some time to see your business through their unhappy eyes. You will discover something, whether it’s a flaw in the product or a failure to communicate something properly, or a decision you made about your customer and his or her needs in the first place.
It’s not an easy process. But it is valuable. It doesn’t come naturally to most. It doesn’t come naturally to me but it’s something I work on, inspired by my partner in crime, Mike Erskine-Kellie. A writer for television, he gets notes on what he’s written back from producers, broadcasters, story editors, etc. Some of the notes are seriously flawed. Some of them reflect a hasty read or something the note giver doesn’t understand about the series itself.
But Mike has a simple philosphy. He won’t fight any note. He will work VERY hard to see if he can make absolutely every note work. He takes it on as some kind of exciting game that allows him to stretch himself in new ways. And only when he has tried everything he can think of and it still fails will he give up on the note. But in the process, he has almost always learned something new about the show, about a character, and even about himself.
Public criticism doesn’t usually feel good. And sometimes it’s completely off base. But no matter what, it’s always an opportunity for growth for those who are willing.