This article was written by David Malits, CEO and founder of David Malits Public Relations.
Many brands focus on marketing financial products such as forex, platforms for binary options trading, applications, products that cannot be regulated, etc. They frequently suffer from poor public and media reputation that is manifested, inter alia, by negative mentions on Google and unbridled attacks in the media. Sometimes a minor issue or catastrophe harms brand value, sales turnover, conversion ratio and potential collaborations.
Over time and with experience, a set of tools has been developed to handle this problem in a holistic manner, incorporating several techniques from different arenas, including public relations, SEO, social activity, legal activity, etc. In this article, I will share my various insights.
Why does negative exposure form?
I frequently encounter instances in which the customer does not understand why the media treats them negatively. “I am legally covered”, “all of my activity is legal”, “I won in court”, etc. All statements made to me in dozens of different cases, alongside speculation and rage at the negative exposure. Most people do not have the media savvy required to understand how the media will react to their area of business.
Where one would expect objectivity that is characteristic of the legal system, the media behaves subjectively
It does not matter if the brand operated in a ‘gray area’ or if a ‘completely kosher’ technological innovation was involved. Certain sectors receive negative coverage by the media, and do not necessarily receive fair judgement.
Where one would expect the objectivity that is characteristic of the legal system, the media behaves subjectively. In cases where regulatory authorities have issued a warning against a brand, first, there will be panic among customers. Further, articles covering it will appear on Google every time a potential customer types in the name of the brand, causing continuous damage.
I saw how a completely decent venture that facilitated the trading of binary options P2P was judged by the media in the same way that forex was. Without entering into judgement on the areas of occupation, we work with everyone. You and I realize that the meaning of P2P trading is that the company that operates the platform is not party to the transaction with the customer. This idea, clear as it may be for people engaged in this sector, is not clear at all to the media.
Furthermore, in areas where the boundaries become even more blurred, as companies that provide services to various brands, a good legal opinion is not enough. Nor are 10 court victories. A hostile press can generate negative buzz in a manner that would make it impossible to claim libel.
This being the fundamental premise, the behavior must adapt to the reality. If behavior before the media is incorrect, the damage only increases. For example, the understanding that regarding a negative item that you cannot prevent from being published, the aim is to minimize mention of the brand name. Misunderstanding and an excessively long response to the media may create too much unnecessary verbiage related to the brand, and this will be indexed later in Google and boomerang back on you.
Where the solution lies
I begin with the premise that the way to cope with bad press is composed of several parameters that change from time to time and from case to case. The main tools I use are listed below.
How the media thinks
Years of experience of working with entities in crisis, under media attack or entities that are active in sensitive sectors that require tactical planning, have left their mark. They have caused us to learn the way international media thinks and acts. I can state very simply that it cannot be assumed that the media will act in accordance with the same legal objectivity that guides you just as it cannot be assumed that you and the journalists see eye to eye. The conclusions therefore must be based on anticipating the response of the media and the way they will perceive you.
Understanding the digital arena
When formulating a response to the media, or when initiating a marketing article with a PR firm, Google algorithms must be taken into account. Before you impulsively respond and send top advisors to the media to try and force the discourse that you believe is proper, think about the risk-benefit equation. At the end of the day, all variables in this equation must be considered: what was said about me? What is the expected exposure? What is the potential direct damage? What can be gained? How can we immediately minimize damage? How can ongoing damage be neutralized as a negative reminder in the main media that comes up in Google? This type of thinking will lead you to different, out of the box actions than conventional measures adopted in the field.
A hostile media
Many customers see the media equation as follows: I want to influence public opinion and hence I need media exposure to do so. This is true for customers during a crisis and for customers seeking innocent marketing.
Their mistake lies in the fact that this approach ignores that public discourse passes through an ‘amplifier’, a.k.a. the media, which relays your message through their agenda-based filter, and hence the public discourse will never reflect the messages you originally intended.
How will you convince the public that the risk management system in your company makes the binary options sector blind to the single investor, or that the banks are involved in the same conflict of interest attributed to various platforms, when the media will not relay this message in a clean and objective manner?
Many businesses encounter precisely this problem and wrongly conclude that if they failed to relay the message the first time, they may succeed on the second. Metaphorically, considering replacing one voice with another is not effective.
The approach must change. The focus of the discourse is not the end audience but the party in charge of relaying the message, i.e. the media. Simply speaking, journalists and editors must be treated as the target audience for the limited, quality B2B campaign. If they buy it from you, the public will buy it from them. Sounds complicated but it is extremely attainable.
A direct, warm and human relationship may break down the barrier that dozens of emails would not
I remember a case in which a customer faced someone who was considered an extremely aggressive journalist with regard to forex, binary, contract for difference (CFD) etc. The customer became pale and was sure that he was finished, since publication of a 2-page negative spread in the mainstream media and on websites means only one thing: massive loss of customers and indexing of the article on Google.
Without getting stressed, I invited the journalist to a meeting in the company’s offices, understanding that a direct, warm and human relationship may break down the barrier that dozens of emails would not. I sat him down in a meeting with the company CEO and with the risks manager, legal advisor, compliance manager, VP of marketing, lawyer etc. During the conversation, I repeated to those present at the meeting statements that I sensed that the media may try to subjectively interpret.
I floated this, and even implied that the conversation in the room was being documented. The discussion was refined, professional and objective under my supervision, and this resulted in the customer being the subject of a quality, objective agenda-free article two weeks later that was free of any bias. The value was tremendous, since not only was a media disaster averted, the positive article, which was written by a tough reporter, became a positive indication for the market.
What can and cannot be said? Is every lie or inaccuracy reported by the media a cause of action? What are the implications of imbalance in an article? What is the reasonable limit of subjectivity in an article? What are the implications of a series of measures carried out by the media? How much information about the article is disclosed to me? Various questions that most of our customers were unable to answer. Brand reputation is an amorphic area for most of us and yet critical for companies that wish to fight to prevent negative media.
Inclusion of a lawyer who specializes in the media in current activities allows another angle to be considered in the dynamic with the media. I believe that the most common mistake that I have witnessed to date is the ‘contact-response cycle’. The media seeks a response to a question and the brand that is not fully aware of its media rights, regarding laws on libel, answers the media without realizing that it caused itself more harm than good.
As the dynamic is occurring, what is being written can be significantly influenced. Numerous details can be demanded about the article. Certain conditions can be imposed regarding the way the brand is presented, the frequency at which it is presented in the report, the location within the article. By doing this, the way the brand will be mentioned can be changed. Occasionally, the article will not be published at all and in any case, the media, which realizes that the issues are being monitored by a legal entity, will be cautious in its reference to the brand and will avoid defamation.
Brand that is not fully aware of its media rights, regarding laws on libel, answers the media without realizing that it caused itself more harm than good
Once a comment is issued to the media, the retroactive impact of the statements is more complicated. Since the legal allegation posits that if you had something to say, you should have done so at the moment you were contacted. Concurrently, issues can occasionally be affected even following publication. Every case is individual.
The combination of legal tools in the dynamic with the media minimizes any direct damage resulting from negative exposure, thereby improving the brand’s position in terms of negative references in Google.
A rather complex case I recently handled involved a customer who suffered from negative articles over the course of many years. 9 of the 25 articles were negative. We managed to remove the brand’s name and with the assistance of a legal advisor who works with us, on more than one occasion, in the body of the report, in the subtitle, in the headline, etc. This action is known simply as ‘softening’. Said 9 articles were perceived to be ‘softer’ by Google algorithms and easier to push.
I am particularly fond of using public relations. As well as, occasionally, the use of top lawyers, excellent relations with the journalists, of objective facts that enhance the brand, will not achieve what one good PR report achieves. With some creative thinking, a genuine change can be effected.
For example, when difficulty arises in suppressing negative articles on Google since they were published in the mainstream media and their affiliation with the brand as perceived by Google is strong, it would be far more effective to publish an article in a completely different sector pertaining to the brand.
Only recently, we invited a health affairs journalist regarding a developing story about one of the top executives of a company with which we work, and published an article about the habits of employees arriving with their pets to work in another company. These articles are not ostensibly related to the brand’s area of business, included the brand name, and were published in the mainstream media. These articles were easily indexed in Google and in a manner that allowed us to promote it at the expense of negative mentions, in the mainstream media no less.
No need to scorn social
In a world that is entirely based on a ‘marketing funnel’ for leads, conversion ratios, content occasionally does not receive proper attention. At the same time, control of the social arena, positive responses to articles, on the web and in social media are highly valuable to Google algorithms and in the creation of the brand image.
In a world that is entirely based on a ‘marketing funnel’ for leads, conversion ratios, content occasionally does not receive proper attention
A neutral report that contains dozens of hostile responses will rise more rapidly to the top and will clearly create a bad impression on anyone reading it and reviewing the responses.
Measures can be taken against the hostile responses in several ways. Complaints can be made with the media that the allegations are libellous. In most countries, publication of libel, even if alleged by a third party and not by the media itself, does not waive liability from the media. Legal action can be taken. The issues can be balanced by positive statements to create a less biased image.
Coping with the media necessarily involves different variables that are not necessarily obvious. At the same time, mastery of these variables can significantly improve a brand’s circumstances and the right action at the right time can also retroactively create a significant difference in the damage-benefit equation for the brand. Do not assume that you understand how these things work. Teach this, think outside of the box and create for yourself optimal, beneficial and effective solutions.