P.T. Barnum is reputed to have said: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.”
While that is entirely true, if publicity for the sake of popularity is your objective, it is incorrect if you aim to build a brand that people trust and transact with.
If you are building anything of value in this present world, the hard news is that you may not be able to really avoid bad press. And this is for several reasons (we will discuss dealing with bad press in the next instalment).
Bad press can happen to anyone. And, if you are very visible, it is almost inevitable.
The best you can do is put structures in place to avoid high-impact negative mentions and always stay ahead of the press. In this piece, I will share 5 action plans you should have in your kitty pronto:
If you are new to this series, you may want to check out the first part: 5 tips for writing compelling press pitches that will get media attention.
1. Firm up your backend
The first step to avoiding bad press is keeping YOUR house in order. As part of the company’s culture, you must adopt relevant and appropriate internal controls to avoid making too many mistakes.
What does your sexual harassment policy look like? Ensure that the organisation’s leaders understand that there won’t be sacred cows and treat offenders accordingly. Apply for international standard certifications and set a deadline to get them.
This will force your team to define its processes, ensure that the processes conform to the stipulated standards, and hire consultants to keep your team in check periodically. Typically, this should cover data protection, finance leaks, process lags, redundancies, and service delivery.
Lastly, and almost as important, have an ongoing process for measuring the performance of team members in line with the company’s vision and long-term plans.
2. Equip your team
Prepare your staff, especially the seniors, so they will be ready to manage the weight of visibility when they become visible.
It is a common pattern, especially in the tech space, to have a CEO who is a salesman personified (vocal, friendly, and a strategic communicator) and is backed by a deeply technical and taciturn team of co-founders and managers.
Often, this lack of skills and experience in media relations is why many executives shy away from opportunities to represent their companies. The result is often a media crisis when the CEO is unavailable, poor media relations that are restricted to event attendance and palpable hostility to media companies in the space.
Next action? Train your executives in media relations, even if you don’t believe that it will be needed.
3. Create a portfolio of positive press
We live in an era where founders have been made to believe that tweets are sufficient to serve their visibility needs. After all, Elon Musk once fired his marketing team because his personal posts were more effective.
But here is the truth: Owned, paid, and earned media have their places. Owned media is the platform you own and control (e.g., social media handles, your communities, your own mobile apps, newsletters, events, etc.). Paid media is the mentions you get by paying to place your stories on other media platforms (e.g., sponsoring a story on Technext).
Earned media refers to the mentions you get due to your impact, for good or otherwise. This includes your customers’ appreciation tweets and your friends’ mentions and posts.
You cannot substitute one for another. The takeaway here is to intentionally position your brand for positive mentions by documenting your achievements using all 3 forms.
The strategy is to pile up a lot of positive media coverage to dilute anything negative that may crop up. You can do this by publicizing a milestone, a product launch, a new customer initiative, a product revamp, and so on.
You cannot be modest with this item!
4. Journalists’ lives matter!
We cannot emphasize this enough. You need to have it in the back of your mind that journalists aren’t saints. They have sentiments. They can have motives. And they know a lot that they don’t say.
So, forge a good and unending relationship with journalists that cover your space.
The least you can do is invite them to your events or organize press events to meet them physically. Then, keep them informed by sharing updates as they occur. And you need to create an internal mechanism to make it a priority to help them if they require information from you.
And I dare say these should include both the good and bad updates…
I guarantee you that when bad things happen, they will either convey a better message on your behalf or they will be your champion to counter aggressive bad press.
It all depends on how you treat them!
5. Make it inside out
British-born American author and inspirational speaker, Simon Senek is an advocate of communicating from the point of “why” to “how” before you close with “what”.
You need to read his book “Start with Why” to get the full ideological gist. But the idea is to introduce your conversations with your ideological convictions—why does what you are building matter?
Then, highlight how your solution will help attain what you claim to be doing- how the new feature or solution will actually help achieve the reason you have stated.
Finally, close with what you did or did not do to make that happen—the technical details and the sacrifice it took the team to achieve the brilliant details.
I give a basic template below:
Headline: We are making banking attractive and seamless for the unbanked with a new USSD feature Body Paragraph 1: In line with our passion to see the unbanked in Africa adopt banking services in a seamless way, we are launching a new USSD feature. Paragraph 2: This feature has the potential to help 50 million unbanked people in West Africa transact easily because it does not require internet, it works across all networks and it never fails... Paragraph 3: It is going to make lives easier for users because we took time to make it easy for them. Our CEO says that is in line with our mission to make life easier for users. Paragraph 4: Say how life has been hellish before now Paragraph 5: Say how you knew USSD was the answer Paragraph 6: Say how your USSD is exactly that. Paragraphs 7-8: What features does it have? Paragraph 9: Guarantee that users will love it because it has immense benefits Paragraph 10: Tell us how to use it (P.S.: You need to read the initial piece on writing press releases that work together with the full picture. We receive a lot of press stories and a great number of them do more to complicate than explicate.)
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