Most companies get some occasional bad press. With all the wheels going and gears turning, it’s almost impossible NOT to screw something up. The question is-- If people are buzzing about your business, even if they’re saying bad stuff, isn't that sorta good?
We talk about this a lot at Grasshopper as we watch companies like Target get in trouble for naming the color of their plus size women’s clothing “manatee gray.” How insensitive of Target!
But there we were, sitting in the office talking about the brand. The incident didn't stop me from going to Target to buy a bunch of cleaning supplies the following week.
Bad Press Is Actually Good for Small Businesses
It’s been scientifically proven that bad press is good for smaller businesses. If a small company has to fire its CEO and it gets in the news, the company name is suddenly on the map.
Alan Sorenson, an economics professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, looked at how book reviews on the New York Times affected sales.
For a well known author, great reviews brought in 42% more book sales and negative reviews made them fall by 15%. For a lesser known, obscure author, it didn’t matter whether the book got good or bad reviews. If it was reviewed in the New York Times at all, the book saw a 30% increase in sales.
Here’s an oversimplification of what might happen when a lesser known company gets some bad press (How many times has something like this happened in your workplace?):
Abby: Oh, did you hear about the CEO of SlipperGenie?
Jeff: No, what’s SlipperGenie?
Abby: An online slipper store-- their CEO was just fired for stealing money.
Jeff: Crazy about the CEO. Wait, there’s a website that sells ONLY slippers? Are they nice? I need a pair!
If you're the new CEO at SlipperGenie, the above conversation doesn't sound so bad.
Should You Ever Self-sabotage?
With this knowledge, it might be tempting to come up with a sabotaging PR stunt to get a little of the limelight, but this is the worst thing you can do.
It violates your values.
It creates distrust for your brand.
It’s short-term attention.
It doesn’t really work.
Ultimately your brand values are more important than pulling off some compromising and potentially offensive prank to get yourself in the press.
The Economist reported on a guy with a small business who tried this tactic out:
“Vitaly Borker, the founder of DecorMyEyes, an online optician, tried to generate publicity by replying abusively to dissatisfied customers, and even allegedly threatening some of them with violence. Mr Borker boasted to the New York Times that provoking masses of complaints bumped him to the top of Google searches for eyewear. His brilliant plan backfired, however: Mr Borker was arrested in December.”
Wouldn’t want to be him! Let's face it-- nobody likes a jerk.
Honesty is Great PR
When things go awry, don’t just offer a generic, corporate statement via press release. Instead, be honest.
Not everything we do in business has to be as secret as we think. Revealing bits and pieces of your secret sauce, sharing how you got where you are today (including your failures), and sharing stats, numbers, results, and some mistakes you’ve made can help you get good press, even if what actually happened wasn’t that great.
Airbnb got in trouble for some robberies and incidents of vandalism that happened to hosts. Instead of pushing the issue under the rug, CEO Brian Chonsky addressed it head-on, bringing positive reviews from critics on TechCrunch and other sites.
“Last month, the home of a San Francisco host named EJ was tragically vandalized by a guest. The damage was so bad that her life was turned upside down. When we learned of this our hearts sank. We felt paralyzed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up…
There have been a lot of questions swirling around, and I would like to apologize and set the record straight in my own words. In the last few days we have had a crash course in crisis management. I hope this can be a valuable lesson to other businesses about what not to do in a time of crisis, and why you should always uphold your values and trust your instincts….”
Airbnb went above and beyond, giving a genuine, heartfelt apology, and then offering all their hosts $50,000 worth of insurance (retroactive!) to prevent issues like this in the future.
Turn a Stained T-shirt Into The World’s Best Cleaning Tool
If bad press or negative reviews happens to you (and they will!), don’t ignore it. Take the opportunity to address the situation and do the right thing. It’s just like if you took a stained t-shirt and turned it into a really useful kitchen rag.
Can’t imagine how bad press could become good? Well, some companies show off how great they are when they deal with negative reviews on sites like Yelp and Amazon.
One of our customers, Dr. Christian Hahn of Made By My Dad, addressed some off-putting negative reviews about his swim goggles with a positive attitude and a solution:
The large size is too small for our 9 year old son. After it didn't fit I measured his head and he measures 22 1/2 inches from the forehead and around the back of his head. I advise you to measure your child's head before ordering to be sure it will fit. Looks like a good product for younger kids with smaller heads.
Dr. Christian Hahn’s Response:
Thank you for your feedback. I want to give you some tips on how the product works!
The neoprene initially is new, just like a wetsuit, and will adapt to most head sizes. If it was too loose it would never fit! So, when you first receive your Frogglez Goggles they 'may' seem tight, but that is by design! Take the strap and use your hands to stretch them all around for a few seconds, including the side straps. This activates and loosens the neoprene so it can adapt to your child's unique head head size.
My 10 year old daughter wears a large Frogglez and her head size is about the same - 22 1/2. So, try stretching them!
It is also good to mention that we have a 100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE! If you order the wrong size, let me know, we will take care of it. Frogglez are supposed to make your life easier, and if that is not the case then we will make it right.
If someone wrote something negative about me, I’d roll over and die. That same 'dying inside' emotion is why brands hate seeing bad Yelp reviews, scathing Glassdoor reports, and other embarrassments go viral on Twitter.
No matter what, stay positive. If you get bad press, you can turn it around. Your reaction is a golden opportunity.
Your Turn: What do you think? Can bad press ever be good? What's your favorite story of bad press turned ok?