How to Survive Bad PR

Jenn Petion

In today’s short media cycles, it is more important than ever to manage your message.  Working in the field of child welfare, that isn’t always easy.  Everyone cares about keeping children safe, but no matter how hard we all work, there will still be people who do terrible things to children.  Any company or non-profit has the potential to experience bad PR, but if you work in a field that impacts life and death, surviving it well is even more critical.

Stop the Spin Cycle

PR professionals are masters of pointing out the silver lining to an incident.  Sometimes though, this can do more harm to your agency’s reputation than good.  If a tragedy occurs, and the public thinks you could have prevented it, transparency that is fast and clear is the best response.  If you know that an issue is going to come out eventually, be the one to tell the story, even if there really is nothing you could have done to prevent it.  He who has the information has the power.

Consider the Impact

Occasionally when bad publicity comes out, it really is best to just let it ride.  There have been times when reporters got the information wrong or made assumptions that were incorrect when my first reaction was to reach out and set the record straight.  When this happens, I always pause to consider how much traction the story has.  It’s possible by reaching out and asking them to clarify that you will actually extend the life the story.  If no other outlets are picking it up, if there are no comments posted on the initial story, if there isn’t any social media chatter and if the information that was wrong is not something that compromises the integrity of your organization, it may be best to leave it alone than to re-energize the story and run the risk of seeming defensive.

Never Waste a Tragedy

In child welfare, there is nothing worse than a child getting hurt who was supposed to be under an agency’s watch.  And if that happens, the public needs to know they still trust the agency.  Show them that because of this incident, you have been able to identify the problem and put in place safeguards to ensure that thousands more children will remain safe.  Make it mean something.  Whether your business is child protection or technology or real estate, people want to know you can grow.


Jenn Petion, M.A. is director of community and government relations at Partnership for Strong Families.  She also serves as co-chair of communications for the Florida Coalition for Children, the statewide advocacy organization of child protection agencies.  

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  The best way to prevent child abuse is to build strong families.


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