Determine if you should react. Sometimes the type of bad publicity you’re facing is not widespread or is limited to entities with very poor reputations. Responding in this case will give authority to something that may have none.
React quickly. When bad news hits you directly, you need to respond immediately, in part so you can control your message and be an active player in the way the fallout unfolds. An example of how not to respond is the now-famous “United Breaks Guitars” example. United Airlines broke the guitar of musician Dave Carroll and after it refused to pay for repairs, he released a catchy music video about the incident that was viewed by millions, all while the airline sat on its hands, resulting in what many consider a huge public relations debacle.
Give your organization a face. If you’re already dealing with bad publicity, you don’t want to present a monolithic “corporate” image with which people can’t connect. Put one of your leaders — perhaps the most charismatic one, if not the president or CEO — out in public to make statements and represent the organization.
Present the facts. Perhaps the bad publicity is not founded on actual events, but more on speculation and rumor. Or maybe you did make a misstep. Either way, you should lay out the facts to explain either why you aren’t in the wrong, or why you erred.
Be transparent. Letting people see how and why things went wrong can help your image. During the 2010 Gulf oil spill BP made public a camera feed fixed on the leak and showed their efforts to cap it, in addition to making considerable financial efforts to clean up and help affected regions.
Own up to a mistake. If ultimately you were in the wrong, accept responsibility and show the appropriate level of contrition. The public can be very forgiving when the appropriate steps are taken to own the mistake and to right any wrongs. Asking for forgiveness is also important in this step.
Show sincerity. In a cynical age the public can cut through a lot of business speak and empty words. If you show sincerity in your response it can help turn the tide of sentiment in your favor.