January 7, 2023

What is negative PR, and how do you handle it?

We can all think of a business that has suffered bad PR. Negative PR can strike any business, big or small. Even some of the most successful companies can be at the center of a damaging PR storm. But what should you do in this situation? Here I’ll explain everything there is to know about negative public relations and share the best industry tips to manage and handle bad PR and turn it into a positive for your brand.

What is Negative public relations?

Negative public relations refers to the negative perception or image of a company by its stakeholders. There is a saying that all publicity is good publicity. However, there is no such thing as positive negative PR. Various factors, such as poor customer service, unethical business practices, or controversial statements, can cause poor publicity.

Negative PR can pose various problems for companies, for example, damaging their reputation and potentially losing customers’ trust and loyalty. The most common way a company can suffer from negative publicity is when newspapers, TV stations, radio stations, or other media report the company's unethical or illegal behavior. This type of coverage can spread quickly and reach a broad audience, leading to widespread poor perceptions of the company. Negative PR can sometimes result in financial losses and legal consequences.

Another method for a positive brand image can beocome negative is through social media, where individuals can share their negative experiences about an organization. This type of negative PR can be especially damaging as it can be difficult for a company to control or mitigate the impact of negative online reviews or comments.

What is the difference between Positive and Negative PR?

The key to good public relations is to be thorough. To gain a good reputation and create a positive image, it’s necessary to go above and beyond your customers' expectations, create a positive image, and build customer loyalty. Quite simply, a company can build trust and credibility with its audience by operating ethically. Things that promote positive perceptions include running marketing campaigns that promote the company's values and using social media to share positive news about the company.

It goes without saying that engaging in unethical or illegal behavior can lead to negative publicity. Examples of unethical behavior include covering up mistakes or intentionally putting profit over people. Trying to hide what has gone wrong can create a negative perception and damage the company's reputation. Also, failing to address customer complaints can create a negative perception of the company.

The key difference between positive and negative public relations is their impact on reputation. Positive PR can help to build trust and credibility, while negative PR can damage an organization's reputation and lead to a loss of customer trust and loyalty.

How to face negative PR?

It is vital to address the issue head-on. To mitigate the impact of negative PR, companies need to be proactive in managing their image. This can include improving customer service or implementing ethical business practices. It is also crucial for companies to be transparent and open with the public, as this can help to build back trust and credibility. Here is an action plan to handle negative public relations

1. Stay calm, and don’t panic

Remain calm, and don’t let your emotions get the best of you when you hear your brand mentioned in the news. Remaining calm can help you think clearly and make better decisions. This is important because how you respond to accusations or spin can significantly impact your reputation and the situation's outcome. Secondly, being emotional or panicked can make you more prone to making mistakes or saying things you may regret later. For your employees and customers, presenting an image of professionalism is crucial, which can be essential for maintaining trust and confidence.

2. Assess the situation

Take a step back and evaluate the situation

What is the nature of the story presented in the media which causes your brand to look bad?

Identify the source of the negative PR

Is it coming from a customer, a competitor, or an industry analyst? Is the source credible, or are they known for spreading misinformation? Is the news warranted? If so, it is essential to address the issue. If it is unwarranted, you may still need to take steps to mitigate the damage.

Assess the potential impact of the breaking news

Will it have a short-term or long-term impact? How will it affect your business? The severity of the situation will help determine the appropriate response.

Consider what your company stands for and how you want to be perceived

This can help guide your response to negative PR and how to handle the story

Determine your response

Once you have assessed the situation, you can develop a plan to address the negative attention in the media. This may involve apologizing, offering compensation, or taking other steps to mitigate the damage to your reputation.

3. Acknowledge the issue and take responsibility

It's essential to be transparent and honest about any adverse events or issues that have arisen. Acknowledge the issue and take responsibility if your fault. If not, then use facts to defend yourself. Be open and transparent about the steps you will take to address the problem and prevent it from happening again. This helps build trust with your audience. Provide a solution to the issue or a way for customers to resolve any problems they may be experiencing. This shows that you are committed to finding a resolution and addressing the concerns of your audience.

4. Monitor the situation

Keep track of how the general public receives the story and its impact on your brand. Here are some steps to monitor the situation when getting negative PR.

Keep track of media coverage

Monitor news and social media platforms to see how the negative PR is received and shared. This can help you understand its impact on your brand. Use online reputation management tools to track how your brand is perceived online. This can help you identify any negative comments and address them promptly.

Monitor customer feedback

Keep an eye on customer feedback, such as social media, email, and phone calls. This can help you gauge the impact of the news on how you are perceived. Respond to negative feedback fast. Speed is key to showing you care.

Monitor the impact on your business

Keep track of changes in sales, customer engagement, or other key metrics. This can help you understand the impact of the damaging news story on your business.

Adjust your response as needed

If the negative PR significantly impacts your business, you may need to adjust your response. This could involve taking additional steps to address the issue or communicating more frequently with stakeholders.

5. Communicate with stakeholders

Identify your key stakeholders

Who needs to be informed about the situation? This may include employees, customers, investors, the local community, suppliers, and regulators

Determine the appropriate channels for communication

How will you communicate with each stakeholder group? This may involve issuing a press release, holding a press conference, or communicating directly with individual stakeholders.

Be transparent and honest

When communicating with stakeholders, it is important to be transparent and honest about the situation. This will help build trust and credibility. If there are any updates to the situation, keep stakeholders informed. This may involve issuing additional statements or holding additional press conferences.

Address concerns and questions

Make sure to address any concerns or questions stakeholders may have about the situation. This may involve providing additional information or clarification.

Use a consistent message

Make sure to use a consistent message when communicating with stakeholders. This will help ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the information being shared is accurate and consistent.

6. Engage with the media

Be proactive in contacting the media and addressing any questions or concerns they may have. Here are some steps you can take to engage with the media when getting negative PR:

Identify key media outlets and reporters

Who are the key media outlets and reporters covering your industry or the negative PR situation? Make a list of these individuals and outlets so you can reach out to them as needed.

Prepare a statement

Develop a clear and concise statement addressing the negative PR. This should include key points about the situation and your response to it.

Be proactive in reaching out to the media

Take your time with the media coming to you. Reach out to key reporters and offer to provide more information or answer any questions they may have.

Be prepared for tough questions

The media may ask tough questions or challenge your responses. Be prepared and stay calm under pressure.

Offer additional resources

If the media is interested in learning more about your company or the situation, be prepared to offer additional resources such as press kits, background information, or interviews with relevant experts.

Monitor media coverage

Keep track of media coverage of the situation and engage with reporters or outlets to correct any misinformation or address any additional questions.

7. Use social media to your advantage

Social media can be a powerful tool for responding to negative PR. Here are some steps you can take to use social media to your advantage when getting negative PR:

Use social media to communicate directly with your audience

Social media allows you to communicate directly with your customers and other stakeholders. Use it to address any concerns or questions they may have about the situation. Use social media to share updates about the situation and your response. This can help keep your audience informed and reassured.

Be responsive

Make sure to respond promptly to any comments or questions on social media. This will show that you are engaged and committed to addressing any issues.

Monitor and respond to online reviews

If you are getting negative reviews or ratings on sites like Yelp or Google, monitor and respond to them. This can help mitigate the damage to your reputation.

Use social media to share positive news

While addressing negative PR is essential, continue sharing positive news about your company on social media. This can help balance out the negative coverage and maintain a positive reputation.

8. Address the root cause

Once the initial crisis has been addressed, take the time to identify the root cause of the pass press coverage and take steps to prevent similar situations.

Conduct a thorough review

Once the initial crisis has been addressed, take the time to thoroughly review the situation to understand what led to the negative PR. This may involve collecting data, speaking with employees and other stakeholders, and reviewing internal processes and procedures.

Identify the root cause of the problem

Once you have a clear understanding of the situation, identify the root cause of the problem. This may involve identifying a specific event or issue that triggered the negative PR, or it may involve identifying systemic problems within your organization.

Develop a plan to prevent similar situations from occurring

Develop a plan to prevent similar situations based on your review and identifying the root cause. This may involve changing your processes and procedures, implementing new controls or safeguards, or providing additional training or resources to employees.

9. Stay transparent

Be transparent with your audience about the situation and your response. Be open and honest about the situation and your response to it. This will help build trust and credibility with your audience. Let your audience know what steps you are taking to address the situation and prevent similar situations from occurring. Make sure to share relevant information about the situation with your audience. This may include issuing press releases, holding press conferences, or communicating directly with customers or other stakeholders.

10. Learn from the experience

Use the situation as an opportunity to learn and improve your crisis management strategy for the future.

Here are some steps you can take to learn from the experience of getting negative PR:

Review the situation

After the initial crisis has been addressed, take the time to review the situation to understand what went well and what could have been done differently.

Identify areas for improvement

Based on your review, identify areas for improvement in your crisis management strategy. This may include identifying weaknesses in your communication plan, gaps in your processes or procedures, or areas where you need to provide additional resources or training to employees.

Develop an improvement plan

Based on the areas for improvement you have identified, develop a plan for improving your crisis management strategy. This may involve changing your communication plan, updating your processes or procedures, or providing additional resources or training to employees.

Communicate the plan to stakeholders

Communicate your plan for improvement to stakeholders, including employees, customers, and investors. This will help ensure that everyone is aware of the steps being taken to improve your crisis management strategy.

Follow through on the plan

Once it has been developed, it is important to follow through on it. This may involve making changes to your systems and processes, providing additional training or resources, or taking other steps to address identified areas for improvement.

Monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed

It is important to continue monitoring the situation and making adjustments as needed to ensure that you are continually improving your crisis management strategy.

It's important to remember that negative PR is common and can happen to any brand. By following a structured plan and remaining calm, you can effectively manage negative PR and minimize its impact on your reputation. Successfully managing this can reassert your place in the market and build more trust in your brand.

Examples of bad PR

Examples of bad public relations include covering up mistakes or putting profit before the interests of customers, employees, or the public, failing to address customer complaints, and engaging in unethical or illegal activities. Companies need to be proactive in managing their public image and taking steps to maintain a positive reputation. There are many examples of companies that have received negative publicity or have had bad public relations. Here are a few examples:


Nike endured a high-profile embarrassment during a highly anticipated US college basketball game. When his Nike PG 2.5 PE shoe burst, star basketball player Zion Williamson suffered a knee injury. As a result of the shoe ripping, customers used social media to criticize Nike for using poor-quality materials and manufacturing. As social media users labeled the issue "Shoegate," Nike became the target of ridicule. Some other brands jumped on the opportunity to highlight their products, with rival Puma tweeting, “Wouldn’t have happened in the pumas.”

However, Nike responded quickly and owned the crisis. As a result of the incident, the brand highlighted its commitment to continuous quality improvement and reassured customers about its commitment to quality. Within a few days of “Shoegate,” Nike sent a team to the factory in China. Nike then shared how it was improving its shoes' quality. A custom-designed shoe was made for Williamson, who returned to the court where he described the shoes as “incredible.”

Nike an examples of bad PR

Nike went to great lengths to fix the problem and showed sincerity in getting to the bottom of the issue. They responded to the negative PR in a timely and compassionate way.

Uber license revoked after a string of negative PR

As a result of the company's lack of corporate responsibility, Transport for London (TfL) did not renew their license.

UBER's CEO immediately issued an open letter in The London Evening Standard apologizing. He acknowledged Uber's mistakes. Because of the timely reaction, people were receptive to the apology. Rather than pass the buck or deny responsibility, he admitted the company had made mistakes, apologized for them, and committed to change things for the better.

Uber license revoked after a string of negative PR

People began tweeting support for the firm, and Uber didn’t waste any time capitalizing on it. They swiftly emailed customers, asking them to sign a petition on Change.org to reverse TfL’s decision. The petition gathered over 700,000 signatures in a matter of days, showing huge public approval for the service and putting TfL in a tricky situation.

Wells Fargo fake bank accounts

The Wells Fargo cross-selling scandal refers to the discovery that Wells Fargo bank employees had opened millions of unauthorized accounts in customers' names to meet heavy sales targets and earn bonuses. The scandal came to light in 2016 and resulted in regulatory fines, congressional hearings, and the resignation of the bank's CEO, John Stumpf. The scandal also hurt the bank's reputation and resulted in a decline in its stock price. At the time, then-CEO and President John Stumpf blamed 5,100 low-level employees for their dismissal. He and his colleagues should have acknowledged that corporate policy and executive decision-making played an integral role in setting unattainable sales quotas.

The bank was slowly changing its sales quota policies despite the news breaking. As a result of the delay, it was evident that the underlying causes of the behavior of the employees had not been understood, and these causes needed to be corrected. Outsiders should sometimes be brought in. Independent consultants are better suited to examine employee actions, company policies, and procedures in severe PR crises to pinpoint what went wrong. A sincere and definitive apology without excuses or attempts to minimize mistakes or improprieties. Based on its initial statements, the company hoped the issue would be resolved quickly. As part of its initial statements, the company merely expressed "regret." In a full-page newspaper advertisement, the company eventually issued a written apology.

Wells Fargo fake bank accounts

The apology should be sincere, genuine, and believable. Management must own the problems to accomplish this. These PR crisis management steps could have prevented Wells Fargo from losing trust and having to launch a PR campaign to reestablish itself.


Overall, negative PR can seriously affect a brand, and it’s customers and can also have broader societal consequences.

Businesses need to be mindful of their actions and words and consider their potential consequences. This can involve conducting risk assessments, seeking input from stakeholders, and implementing strategies to mitigate potential negative impacts.

Companies and organizations may proactively seek to manage their public image through public relations efforts. This can involve promoting positive news and information about the company and building strong relationships with the media and other stakeholders.

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