Mean Media: Should You Fight Back?

The media have been exposing “bad” PR pitches and press releases for a while now, usually because the pitches are offensive, ill-conceived or down-right off target.  Listen: We’ve all had our off days (including me: shocker, I know). Every single great PR person I know lives in fear of being exposed one day (by The Bad Pitch Blog, for instance) due to an honest mistake taken out of context. This same fear has stopped small business owners themselves from experimenting with media relations at all.

Many pitches ARE horrible, and I don’t mind that they’re exposed as a lesson to us all. But that’s almost entirely due to pure-and-simple lack of common sense. (Read this recent case-in-point, if you dare. I’ll never think of my mother the same way again.)

Other times, these rants seem like they’re nothing more than a witch hunt.  Because of this, I’m happy to report a win for Batter Blaster™, a company that makes pancake and waffle batter in a can, who fought back…and WON. *DISCLAIMER: The folks at Snackbox, Batter Blaster’s PR agency of record, are colleagues and friends of ours, which is how we first learned about this victory.*

Batter Blaster recently launched a **BLAST Campaign offering free indie music downloads. The campaign was covered by Wired, but the purpose/connection between pancakes/indie music (there actually IS one) was lost in The Boston Phoenix which, instead of covering the campaign,decided to slam the press release instead. Did the folks at Batter Blaster roll over and take it? Nope. They fought back (by responding in the comment section)…and WON, with the writer posting this amazing follow-up in which crow was graciously ingested.

I’m not telling you to attack everyone who attacks you. In fact, “chefbatterblaster” used some choice words I would have never advised him to use, especially in the public comments section. The tone would not have worked in a more traditional medium, like the Wall Street Journal. But I assume it was appropriately (and necessarily) jolting for the venue.

So how SHOULD you decide when/how to respond to negative press? I have a 4 year-old impulsive, hot-tempered son. I’ll tell you what I tell him when another kid pisses him off:

  1. Don’t react in the heat of the moment. Step away, take three deep breaths.
  2. If you’re still filled with anger, go tell someone who can help you work it out. In your case, that’s a trusted colleague or your friendly neighborhood PR consultant, who will most likely walk you through a few response scenarios and the possible outcomes of each.
  3. Don’t necessarily turn the other cheek (yes, I’m THAT kind of mom). Bad press doesn’t go away like it used to…it lives on and on, thanks to the Internet. Do find a way to respond appropriately.

Understand that even if you respond in private, such as in an email, your words may not stay private for long. And know when to pick up the phone or meet in person. Arguing in writing rarely works. If you sense a misunderstanding is at play, an actual conversation is usually the only way to ever get on the same page (employers/managers: This is sage advice for working with employees as well).

If you do plan to argue in writing, be sure to have a second or even third pair of eyes review your rebuttal.  Not only do you want to make sure you’re presenting a fair and accurate case, but you also want to make sure that your words (which, remember, will live on forever) won’t bite you in the ass later on.

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