How Executives Can Help Their Companies Recover From Bad Press

Expert Panel® Forbes Coaches Council

Whether it comes in the form of unhappy customer reviews or negative news coverage, receiving bad press can be detrimental to a company’s future. As the top executive, the task of making key decisions to limit potential damage to the company’s reputation and provide a more positive narrative to consumers will often fall to you.

In crafting plans to recover from bad press, there are essential considerations for senior executive leaders to explore before settling on a course of action. Below, members of Forbes Coaches Council discuss critical factors to weigh as you work to develop an effective strategy that will help your organization bounce back from negative press quickly.

Featured members share ways for executives to help their companies recover from bad press.
Forbes Coaches Council members share ways for executives to help their companies recover from bad press.

1. Take A Breath And Consider What You Have Learned

Every setback offers an opportunity to innovate and build trust. Take a deep breath and consider what you have learned from the situation about how to take even better care of your company, clients and other stakeholders. Decide what needs to change to better fulfill your promises, take ownership of those things that are within your control or influence and make things right where appropriate. – Vered Kogan, Momentum Institute

2. Be Honest, Clear, Specific And Committed

Be honest, be clear and be specific about committed actions to make things right. Focus on what you can control: your company’s words and deeds. Bad press can become good press when you do the right thing. Avoid the temptation to try to “manage the message.” If you’re struggling to find the right words, you’re managing the message and not solving the problem. – Bill Koch, Bill Koch Leadership Coaching

3. Take Time To Formulate An Appropriate Action Plan

Remember the speed of the news cycle; memories fade quickly. Don’t let the pressure of bad press rush you into making a decision that could make matters worse. Take a little time to formulate an appropriate action plan and respond in real time. Continuous action and consistent improvement beyond the initial insult are needed to regain the credibility lost. – Jarret Patton, DoctorJarret PLLC

4. Proactively Manage The Situation

Bad press can result in people losing faith and trust, and recovery is therefore crucially important. Whether it is about minimizing the damage, restoring confidence or creating a new opportunity to share a different narrative depends on the specific circumstance and what resources the executive has available. It is beneficial to proactively manage the situation by being consistent in the approach. – Thomas Lim, Singapore Public Service, SportSG

Recovering from bad press can be difficult, but the executive needs to focus on the purpose and the reason why they started the company in the first place. Adopting a positive mindset can be tricky when there is negativity from the press, so you must reflect and stay connected to the mission statement. Focus on providing the best service possible and making customers happy. – Michelle Perchuk, MTV Coaching

6. Face The Crisis With Courage And Integrity

Authenticity is the key! An executive must be willing to face the crisis with courage and integrity if the goal is to have sustainable reputational outcomes. All people and all businesses make mistakes, but the smart ones know that dealing with bad news head-on is the most effective way to build trust and credibility. Personal and business brand value depend on it! – Jon Michail, Image Group International

7. Don’t Defend Your Company

Taking a defensive posture only adds fuel to the fires of critics. Instead, flood the press with things you are doing well, changes you are making and small wins that challenge the critical narrative. Don’t address bad press directly; address it indirectly by highlighting your good practices. – Corrie Block, Paragon Consulting FZE

8. Refocus Your Marketing Strategy

Bad press, great product? Recover from bad press by refocusing your marketing strategy. Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on Broadway was an amazing story of how an icon successfully recovered. Her team focused on dedicated fans while working to transition their focus to offering her services (music) to a brand new genre of fan who was much less aware of the bad press. – Mika Hunter, Female Defender

9. Address The Issue Head-On With Honesty

When dealing with bad press, you must address the issue head-on with honesty. If your company truly made a mistake, then take extreme ownership to figure out what went wrong and implement systems to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If the bad press is unsubstantiated, then take the high road, flood your communication channels with positivity and move forward. – Marc Zalmanoff, Marc Zalmanoff LLC

10. Be Open And Transparent About Mistakes

Often, the cover-up is worse than the initial mistake or setback. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to gaslight the public to avoid liability or to save face. Be open and transparent about the mistakes that were made, own up to those mistakes and communicate a positive plan moving forward to make reparations as necessary and to regain the trust of the consumers. – Jonathan H. Westover, Human Capital Innovations, LLC

11. Consider An Extended Recovery Plan

When making a plan to respond to bad press, extend the duration of the response beyond the time frame that you think is necessary. News cycles are dramatically compressed, so there may be a preference to approach the recovery as a short-term matter. Instead, consider a recovery plan that extends over weeks or even a quarter. – Ben Levitan, Cedalion Partners

12. Conduct Thorough Research On The Issue

An executive needs to conduct thorough research on the issue at hand, communicate effectively with stakeholders and employees and take steps to rebuild the company’s reputation. Additionally, it is crucial for executives to be mindful of how their actions might affect the company’s bottom line and its overall success in the long term. – Peter Boolkah, The Transition Guy

13. Build Messaging For Informal Channels

Most midsize professional service firms get little traditional press. When things go wrong, rumors spread quickly through informal channels—usually text, email and social media—that are often filled with competitors. So get your thumb on the pulse of those channels. Build your formal messaging for public consumption and to quell rumors in informal channels. – Randy Shattuck, The Shattuck Group