Golden rules of dealing with bad press

Before I became a coach, I ran a marketing and PR agency, so I understand bad press happens to good people. It’s inevitable. With recent news articles lambasting chiropractors at almost every turn, I wanted to share some PR secrets of how your clinic can manage bad press and maintain your credibility.

The fact is, even when you and your organisation or even your regulatory body behave responsibly, you always run a small risk of an unexpected PR disaster. In a world of social media, bad publicity can reach the masses faster than an HVLA adjustment! The only thing worse than having your image tarnished in the public light after you’ve done everything within your power to protect yourself is to find out you’re the one who caused the disaster. For every employee saying something misguided to the public, there’s a poor senior-level decision being made.

Your network, colleagues, patients and staff are all responsible to staying true to what you believe – you have to guide them in what they say.

Rule #1: Leave the internet alone.

Never, ever poke the internet bear and engage with it’s army of keyboard commandos. The internet is an angry, relentless beast, and it’s got a nasty swarm of bees buzzing around its honeypot who can drown you in negative messages, share their frustrations with peers, and do so with virtually no ramifications—and often anonymously. The internet bear does not sleep…it waits. The most surefire way to avoid falling in their trap is to behave impeccably. Don’t post claims you can’t back up with science and high-quality research. Don’t respond to criticism with posts with ANGRY CAPITALS, or profanity – be professional at all times, cite relevant and recent research. Don’t try to out-insult those who insult you – rise above it like you would rise above a bully in the play ground, and above all don’t argue. If you must, state your facts calmly and with references, and then move on, however your best bet is to not engage at all- the internet bear loves a fight, so don’t give him what he wants.

Rule #2: Handle reviews with dignity.

What do you do if a patient publishes an unflattering review of your clinic? Should you be ready to engage with them? Well, maybe. If you do it diplomatically, tactfully, and respectfully, then it’s possible. But your approach should be measured. Take a deep breath. If you think having the heat of angry postings on your Facebook page is bad, just wait and see what it feels like when legitimate journalists begin calling you because you went viral for an emotion-laden tirade on social media! If this happens, it’s best to ask for help from your PR people in your association before you take action. And if you don’t have any, find some quickly. This is an emergency-level situation that requires professional help. Of course, the worst thing you can do is write an emotion-filled press release or post a tirade against an unflattering newspaper article on your Facebook wall.

Rule #3: Let the haters destroy their own credibility.

Sometimes, you need to find the inner war strategist to implement your battle plans. Does a good general engage in every battle that she can? Unlikely- she’ll end up worn out long before her time. The smart general will wait until the conditions are favourable and pick your battles. If you refuse to engage with naysayers and haters, they’ll likely behave even more outlandishly- Now the face of your criticism has lost their credibility and you didn’t have to waste one iota of energy.

Rule #4: Listen, learn and improve

If one person complains about you, they could be wrong. If a lot of people complain, you’re wrong. Measuring your patient satisfaction regularly through a PROMs system like Care Response will help you identify if you’re doing things right (plus, if you’re really clever you’ll use these great statistics for marketing.) If you measure high ratings, and have high customer satisfaction, yet one very angry person blows up at you on Twitter, perhaps it is just one angry person on Twitter and unlikely to be a cause for serious concern. Angry people are inescapable, and the most unreasonable are often the loudest, but you should ensure you’re collecting feedback and working to improve your patient’s experiences with you.

Rule #5: Problem Solving is a Priority

You can build better customer relationships by solving problems. Want to turn an angry customer into a dedicated one? Fix their problem! A negative experience can spread through social circles pretty quickly – word of mouth is your best marketing tool as long as they are saying positive things, but it’s often the way you handle a complaint, not the complaint itself, that makes the difference.

Rule #6: Excellent performance wipes out the negative

What’s the best way to get away from a really terrible PR disaster? Outperform it. As I’ve mentioned above- one angry review does not a disaster make. If you consistently work to improve your skills, learn how to communicate to your patients and work as a team you’ll have a high-performing clinic with a reputation for patient-centred care. The overwhelming amount of positive reviews will rapidly wipe out the impact one poor review might have had. Moral of the story here is to outperform the PR disaster, as no one cares about what happened in the past, because the quality of your work overshadows everything else.

The best formula for avoiding PR disasters is to treat your patients like royalty and offer a great service every time. Coaching will help you learn how to communicate and work effectively as a team to ensure you are consistent, engaged and all working towards the same goal using your own individual strengths for the greater good.

If disaster strikes, be prepared, ensure your staff, colleagues and patients are all on the same page —and most of all, be smart, credible and professional. 

Questions to ask yourself to prepare for potential PR disasters

  1. Does your clinic have a policy for press or trolls who contact the clinic? Are your reception prepared for it and know how to handle phishing calls? Who is the point of contact to handle the situation?
  2. How do you collect customer satisfaction statistics? Is there a better way to do this? Can you use it for marketing purposes?
  3. When did you last change or analyse your system? Is it the best it can be right now?
  4. Do you have a good relationship with your local media? Could this be improved so they come to you first before wading in with a negative article.

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