I recently read an article in Harvard Business Review, “Don’t Spin a Better Story. Be a Better Company,” that highlights the value in fixing your company as opposed to trying to use PR experts to change customer opinion. Companies hire or use internal PR to sway people into thinking they are a great company. As the article says, “I know what doesn’t work: thinking you can tell a better story without becoming a better company.”
Look at what you do well and double down
First, you should identify what your company is already doing that you are proud of. In the article, it comments on Walmart’s response to Hurricane Katrina, when the company provided meals, supplies and money to hurricane victims. While Walmart had (and still has) many detractors, the company not only realized it should publicize these activities but that it should also increase the frequency of this type of corporate activity.
The key is not simply to find something good your company is doing and publicize it, but to also build off of it. If you encourage your employees to help disadvantaged children, take steps to have more employees participate, pay for the employees to have tools that improve their effectiveness when giving help, give employees more time off to help the kids, etc.
In the Walmart situation, it started when the CEO asked “What would it take to be at our best all the time [not just when responding to Katrina]?” Walmart then made a strategic decision to go where those questions led. It identified areas where being better would have the biggest impact.
The publicity will follow
Once you optimize the great things your company, or your employees are doing, the positive publicity and benefits will follow. People will naturally begin discussing it. Blogs and press will learn about your activities and want to promote it. You may want to amplify the messaging but it starts with doing something truly special. In the Walmart case the publicity is well-received because it is real.
Spin won’t undo negative behavior
Conversely, if there are activities your company is embarrassed about, a great PR team (internal or external) will not change how the activity is perceived. If you are saying 4 out of 5 doctors recommend your product while in truth most doctors think it is terrible for people’s health, hiring a firm that identifies 10 doctors and has eight of them actively endorse your product will not help. Marketing does not change the reality. The solution here if you are not going to create a healthy product, then do not try to position it as one (see why Carl’s Jr. is outperforming McDonald’s).
Think when you have bad sentiment
You can use negative customer opinion to improve your company. When there is negative sentiment, you need to explore why that sentiment exists. Rather than trying to spin it away (or ignore it), use it to understand what customers think of your company. Hopefully, it will show weaknesses that you can actually fix by changing the way you do business or build your product.
What you can do
First, as Walmart did, encourage everyone at your company “to get out of its defensive crouch and listen to its critics.” Second, act on this criticism, not by hiring someone to convince people otherwise but make changes based on what your customers and the public is saying. You will build a better company that is also more popular.
- If your company or product is experiencing bad publicity, the best course of action is to identify the cause of this publicity rather than hiring somebody to spin a different story.
- Once you have identified what people do not like, have your company focus on the good it provides and build that out or stop doing what people dislike.
- Good publicity will follow, as it will be based on real stories.