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Annalese Sharrock

Annalese Sharrock Strategic Director

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06 759 7044



    How successful businesses respond to bad news and reviews

    As much as you’d love your company to be loved by everyone, inevitably there will be the odd slip up or negative Google review or awkward moment that each has the potential to tarnish your hard-earned brand value. But the great news is that there are screeds of examples of how to turn this negative press into positive messaging and actually create a stronger connection to your target audience.

    So, let’s look at some famous public relations howlers:

    The Scathing Online Review

    The great enemy of businesses today is negative online reviews. Facebook, Google, Trip Advisor, and many more sites allow people to leave permanent reviews and ratings for your business. They’ve kept business owners awake to the small hours sweating over the lost business as their rating drops from 4.1 to a measly 3.9. However, one Auckland restaurant has flipped these reviews on their head by proudly displaying them on the front page of their website.

    Coco’s Cantina website features negative reviews like:

    A bad night all round
    “…there are plenty of other great places to eat on K Rd and Ponsonby Rd!!”
    – Bryan, Trip Advisor

    Loud long wait overpriced mediocre food
    “If you like a loud venue, poor lighting, 2 hr waits for a table, $30 plate of average meatballs and mediocre sauce this is the place for you. Nice staff.”
    – Pjsheppard, Trip Advisor

    This approach reflects the classic business strategy maxim, “If you try to please everyone, you’ll please no one.” Sure, you can learn from this feedback, improve your service, and respond politely, but there is also every chance that these customers just aren’t in your target market.

    This Auckland restaurant doesn’t need all 1.5 million Aucklanders as fans; they only need a few of thousand true fans to make it a raging success. In fact, alienating one segment of the market as a result of narrowing in on its true market might just be the proof their fans need that the restaurant is prepared to bend over backwards to meet their unique needs.

    Chevy’s #TechnologyAndStuff Come Back

    During a live presentation of the MVP award immediately after baseball’s 2014 World Series, Chevrolet zone manager Rikk Wilde stumbled over his words to describe Chevy’s new truck as having “technology and stuff”. The huge live audience immediately caught on to this and the Internet started buzzing about this blunder.

    However, the Chevrolet social media team acted fast and turned the gaffe into good news with tweets like this:

    Suddenly, an awkward moment became a point of connection, an excellent hashtag and free promotion between Chevrolet and their fans.

    And let’s look at the Chevrolet brand, if you want a pick up truck, you probably don’t want a polished breakdown of its fancy interior gadgets. It’s a truck, a Chevy with technology and stuff and enough room for half the baseball team and your three dogs in the back. Chevy don’t need to be Lexus or Audi; their audience wants Chevy to be real and make big, burly, truly American trucks. “Technology and stuff” might just be the perfect wording to sum up the truck’s features.

    THE Handshake

    John Key’s most-awkward moment as prime minister had to be this brilliant handshake slip up at the 2011 World Cup:

    But the handshake was just the highlight in a career of notable gaffes, including this display of his DIY prowess …

    And, of course, his modelling skills are seared into our nation’s memory:

    In his long career as the leader of New Zealand, John Key managed to cool the waters on all these viral incidents by taking the side of the public and being prepared to laugh about each incident. A real person who makes mistakes and admits them is always more endearing than the person who pretends the mistakes never happened.

    Connection vs Perfection

    The moral of all the above examples, from a business point of view, is that perfection isn’t the goal. Real connection to your target audience is number one and, sometimes, negative press is just the vulnerability needed to deepen that connection. That can mean admitting your mistakes, laughing at yourself, and, most importantly, not just ignoring the bad news.

    As an example, my running coaching business (TempoFit) in Auckland used to shut down during the cold, rainy winter months. But one year we decided to embrace the elements and actually sell them as the main attraction.

    We called that winter season “Mid-Winter Madness” and promised running in the dark, pouring rain and frosty mornings. We told people it would be our hardest season yet with hill reps, mud runs and long, gruelling workouts. That season broke all our membership records. People lapped up the challenge and embraced the bad news.

    So, what bad news is your business ignoring that could be spun to further enhance your brand’s connection to its target audience?

    Learn from the feedback and make necessary changes to improve your offering, but also be prepared to be vulnerable, to be real and to put the needs, values and passions of your target market as the defining characteristics of your brand.

    To explore your brand positioning further or to get on top of your public relations (including press, social media and marketing messaging), why not sit down for an obligation-free chat with our Brand team. Call 06 759 7044 or email me


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