Fast Company has an interesting piece up today on day about the pitfalls of selling a drinks that have to compete with water. The entire piece is worth a read for communicators in both the public and private sector. But one passage, about Gatorade deciding not to fight a critical story about its marketing and product is telling (emphasis mine):
By this past January, the game had almost 2.5 million downloads and was played some 87 million times–and then food activist Nancy Huehnergarth found it. She filed a complaint with the New York State Attorney General, claiming it was a deceptive campaign with an anti-water message. The game was yanked, leaving a Bolt-shaped hole in the iTunes Store and reviving a difficult question for the beverage industry: How do you market water alternatives without demonizing nature’s most abundant and healthful natural resource?…
another source close to the offending app, who requested anonymity because the game is still a sensitive subject for those involved, believes Gatorade shouldn’t have pulled the game at all. “I think [Gatorade] should have come on the offensive and said to that blogger, ‘Hey, if you have any questions, come to the [company’s] Sports Science Institute and we’ll talk to you more about this. We’ve got hundreds of scientists that make this stuff.’”
The takeaway from this is simple… IF you represent a client or organization that is 1) honest and 2) has nothing to hide.
Negative publicity (both by traditional and social media) represent an opportunity to generate 1) positive press for your client and 2) goodwill with the public. So what’s a communicator to do when the media or the public begins to criticize the product or organization?
Open. The. Doors.
Invite the media down to see the operation. Make the heads of your organization available for media questions. Prepare fact sheets that journalists can refer to after they leave.
Media days — especially after a critical story — should be an all hands on deck affair (when possible).
When the negative press begins to mount, the first instinct of some is to run and hide. I understand this. Believe me, I do. But the appearance of hiding, or pulling a product (unless the product is legitimately deceptive and/or dangerous) casts further suspicion on the organization. If you represent an honest client, don’t be afraid to let the media see how things are done.
Remember: when you tell the truth, you never have to remember what you said.