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Fight Like Fab: 7 Steps to Dealing With Bad Press
 

When a big-time outlet published unflattering reports about Fab.com, the company fought back. And you can too. Here's what you can learn.

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You may have seen Bloomberg's rather unflattering story about the company culture of online retailer Fab.com. The article outlined reports of terse emails from the founder and seemingly odd demands, including mandating certain types of fonts in emails or certain types of paper.

The day after the story came out, Fab co-founder and CEO Jason Goldberg took to the company blog to address in lengthy detail what he called "blatant misrepresentations".

This begs the question: How and when should you respond to bad press--if at all?

Inc. talked to public relations veteran Stuart Zakim, president of New York City-based Bridge Strategic Communications. He suggested this seven step recovery plan.

1. Always respond.  "'No comment' is never acceptable," says Zakim. "The worst way to handle it is to bend over. It doesn't benefit anybody not to respond."

You put yourself in a better position by voicing your side of the story, he explains. 

2. Be timely. It may take you some time to bounce back from all the negative attention--especially if it comes from a major news publication, Zakim acknowledges. So you need to act quickly to minimize the damage. Collect your thoughts, double-check your facts, then publish your side of the story, he says.

"Some people think you can limit the news cycle by not responding. No, it lives forever on the internet," he says. Responding to bad press in a timely manner will help you to address the situation--and move past it--as swiftly as possible.

3. Find a platform. Once you've been lambasted by a publication, you can't exactly reach out and ask that news source to reprint your side of the story, says Zakim. You have to seek out alternative platforms for your message. One option: The blog-o-sphere.

"Use the platform of your blog. Date it. Point people to it," he advises. Sure, your personal or professional blog may not have the readership of a daily paper, but you'll be hitting the key stakeholders: employees, investors and customers.

4. Recruit a champion. When it comes to expanding the viewership of your counter-argument, Zakim suggests reaching out to other news sources that might be interested in your view of the story.

"A third part endorsement validates everything you say," he says. "Especially a reporter, since they are objective."

In the case of Fab, for example, Zakim notes an article in defense of strict start-up cultures (like the one at Fab) written by PandoDaily Editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy on Wednesday. "I’d be pointing people to that very aggressively, if I were doing it," he says.

5. Stay professional. "You want to come across cleanly, not defensively. No name calling," Zakim says of drafting your response. Break the points you take issue with, he suggests, relying on factual data as much as possible to support your case. And if you're worried about coming across as too defensive, remember: "It's worse to stay silent," he says.

6. Do your research. Be specific in your counter argument, suggests Zakim. Don't just say: "No, no, no--that's not true!" Break down your beef with the offending article on a point-by-point basis, and try to remain as objective as possible--you want to come across as informed, not angry, he says.

"Be sure of the facts. If you're not sure of the facts, or if you believe it is accurate but has been twisted, still respond, but be careful of what you say," he concludes.

7. Bury the hatchet. Despite your best efforts, once an article has been published--especially online--it is more or less there to stay, cautions Zakim. And it may crop up at unforeseen, and unwanted, times in the future. Zakim's suggested response to old--and unflattering--news: "We handled that in 2013 and there is nothing further to discuss."

Acknowledge that you managed it then and moved on. He concludes, "There is no answer beyond that. Engaging in conversation doesn’t help."

IMAGE: leweb3/Flickr
Last updated: Jun 26, 2013

FRANCESCA FENZI reports on entrepreneurship, technology and small business news from San Francisco. Her work has previously appeared in TIME, USA Today, Pop City and The Northside Chronicle.
@FrancescaFenzi




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