EO Member Thanos Polizos tackles the topic of bad publicity in an article in Inside Business, January 2015.
As the owner of ODUrent, a provider of off-campus housing to several hundred students at Old Dominion University, we have long dealt with negative press about crime surrounding the campus.
Even though the stories in the papers were not directly aimed at us, our customers and their parents were always very concerned.
Negative publicity is a reality that many businesses will face, and combatting it should be a part of every business owner’s strategic plan.
I’m not talking about the dissatisfied customer who wants a refund or the high-traffic negative blogger who has an opinion to share. I’m talking about true disasters – defective products or personal injury – that can change the public’s perception of your business.
Fifteen years ago, we took a huge risk investing in aging and rundown neighborhoods. Zoning issues, neglectful neighbors, over-grown foliage, along with crime, were some of the challenges we had to overcome. We have learned firsthand what to do in the face of seemingly endless bad news.
1. The best time to plan for a crisis is before it happens. Have your management team dream up worst–case scenarios and create operating procedures to handle each one of them. Don’t forget Murphy’s Law! If it can happen, it probably will. Set up alerts online on multiple search and media channels with your company name to monitor comments. Know ahead of time who will be your company’s spokesperson. Consider using a PR firm and have a plan on using social media to rebuild trust.
2. Don’t be impulsive. Take a deep breath and think through the scenario. Is it that detrimental? Do you need to get involved? Is this media widely read? Silence is OK. Sometimes the bad press makes it sound worse than it is. Then, decide if and how to communicate and if this is worth a public response. Be honest and transparent with your customers and the community and let them know you care and that they are your team’s first priority. If you are at fault, it is best to be honest. Do not sugarcoat or deny the claims. The public will see right through this.
3. Look at it as an opportunity to solve a problem. One of the best ways to handle bad publicity is to treat it in a solution–driven and optimistic manner. I don’t mean to challenge the media or other organizations involved, but to quietly offer a solution and to use this to differentiate yourself from the competition. By offering a solution and accepting the challenge, your business will come out ahead in the long run.
Long-term success creates amnesia. Many comeback stories involve long-term vision.
AT ODUrent, we took a long-term approach. We alleviated our tenants’ fears by adding safety features such as automatic nightlights, unique automatic door lock systems, door latch guards, window bars, peepholes and motion alarm systems.
When high-profile crimes came up in the news, we reminded all of our tenants about the pre-emptive security features we installed and how to use them. We also hired two private security firms to patrol the campus perimeter every weekend and over holiday breaks.
We are proud to say despite early challenges, we have made progress by renovating city blocks one at a time, while our numerous crime prevention features on our properties allow us to enjoy almost no crime.
We raise our standards every year to improve the neighborhood and become great stewards of the community, the neighborhood civic leagues and Old Dominion University.
We hope that our actions benefit several hundred households in the Lamberts Point and Highland Park areas, and also the several thousand students who call this area home.
Thanos Polizos is the co-founder of ODUrent.com, an investment and redevelopment company that manages off-campus housing at ODU. He is the outgoing president of Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Southeast Virginia, a global network exclusively for entrepreneurs. EO helps entrepreneurs learn and grow through peer-to-peer learning, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and connections to experts.