Most of my work involves writing in a positive way – mostly through tightly-written press releases informing media and their audiences of a new service, product, exhibition, cause, and so on. But very occasionally I am asked to advise on negative publicity that a client may have received.
This is what I am doing this week.
A client – and a friend of 30 years plus – has written a book, which I proofread. This book has been praised by readers and critics alike. Some critics have flagged up areas where the book or my client’s actions, might have been stronger or more informed, but this criticism has been given positively and constructively.
Until Mr X came along. Mr X fancies himself as a book reviewer on a specialist forum and, somewhat tellingly, describes himself as an “almost author”. On this well-read, active forum Mr X has made a savage attack, bordering on defamation, on my client. He attacks my client’s ‘life choices’, as they say, character and behaviour. He states that he could not finish the book (reaching page 76) yet goes onto make many inaccurate claims – factually and ethically – about the book’s contents and my client. The review has been read by hundreds of people.
My client is distraught. Writing and selling is my client’s livelihood, not a hobby.
But isn’t all publicity good publicity?
Hard to say. The posting has created a lot of comment on the forum, much of it in support of my client, but there are others who may well be influenced by the criticisms. Remember Gerald Ratner? His career took a nose dive after he claimed his company’s jewellery was “crap”.
So how do you handle negative publicity?
- Don’t react straightaway. Sleep on it.
- Identity what it is about the ‘attack’ that upsets you. Is the person attacking your product, your company or your character?
- Can you pinpoint what your opponent’s underlying agenda is? You are dealing with another human being. You don’t know what is going on in their life, the frustrations they are suffering, or their ‘issues’. Maybe they are taking out their frustrations on you. You can’t know so handle then with care.
- Has the critic touched a nerve? Is there some kernel of truth that makes you uncomfortable? Be honest with yourself.
- Think about the best channel to use for your response. This could be a forum, a personal letter or email, a phone call or through using a mediator/management or PR representative.
- Collect testimonials from people who support your product, service or project.
- Encourage other people to review your product. Get these up on the web so that these positive reviews drown out the negative ones.
- Don’t go in all guns blazing but remind the critic that defamation/slander/libel is a legal matter. People forget that even online arenas such as Facebook, Twitter, forums and blogs are public spaces. People have been taken to court over things they have typed in anger or carelessly let slip.
- Draft your response in writing.
- Get a professional (like me!) to look over your words. An impartial eye will help you to present your case more powerfully and less emotionally. A trained writer will also edit for grammar and spelling as mistakes here can undermine your professional demeanour.
Many thanks to Judith Coyle for writing this guest blog.
Judith Coyle is a writer, editor and PR person who works with small businesses, sole traders and projects. She is a member of Lancaster Ethical Small Traders’ Association (ESTA). Find her at www.judithcoyle.co.uk
I hope you enjoyed reading and see you again soon!