Handling and Avoiding Bad Publicity

By Joe Weigel, Weigel Strategic Marketing

For whatever reason, it seems that journalists go out of their way to find and report on bad news in funeral service. And given some of the egregious situations that have occurred, it’s no wonder the funeral profession seems to be targeted in these stories.

A public relations disaster for a smaller company could put it out of business or, at the very least, have an impact on sales and tarnish the company for years to come. The question is, what do you do when your business is thrust into the spotlight for negative reasons?

Over the course of my career, both in funeral service and outside the profession, I have advised companies on these matters on more than one occasion. Below are four simple tips I suggest for handling and avoiding bad PR.

Don’t wait to become news, be the news
Begin proactively. Talk about what you and your company are doing now. Be visible in funeral service beyond CFSA. Talk about and promote what you provide, about your products and services and, maybe, what you’re doing inside your company that’s noteworthy. Get your name into the news – both in the trade magazines, blogs, and your local hometown paper. This is a great way to ensure that there’s a significant amount of “positive sentiment” surrounding your company, if something does go wrong in the future.

Turn existing customers into company ambassadors
Of course, being in the news alone will not be enough to turn an average funeral home or cemetery customer into an advocate of your company. You also have to ensure you interact with them and make them feel special. (I’m certain this is something you do already!)

You might also get involved in your community and in charitable causes. Demonstrate to people you are concerned about more than just your own success. Show them you care and they will be more likely to talk about you in a positive light.
Whatever the route you choose to take, turning someone into an ambassador begins with consistent communication and extra special attention!

Remember, everyone in your company is a spokesperson
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that marketing and sales are the only people in charge of representing your brand. The existence of social media networks means that every one of your employees with a presence has an impact on your brand. Remind your employees that they are company representatives – both when they talk on the phone or meet with customers, and when they post something about your company on a social media site.

Simply put, be proactive

Regardless of what you’re dealing with, a proactive approach is always a good line of thinking. This doesn’t mean responding to a situation in a hasty manner, but it does mean responding in a timely manner and addressing issues directly.

Many of the companies that have suffered major PR disasters have actually responded pretty well. They’ve come out and said, “Hey, we’re working on the issue and we’re committed to doing everything in our power to prevent such things happening in the future. If you’re worried or have questions, please give us a call.” A direct approach like this is often enough to keep most people calm and to prevent too much of a PR nightmare.

You can’t always account for what people will do and say. As such, so long as you focus on safeguarding your customers, on being positive, and on correcting problems, you are much less likely to suffer such a crisis.

Joe Weigel is the owner of Weigel Strategic Marketing, a communications firm delivering expertise and results across three interrelated marketing disciplines: strategy, branding and communications. For more information, he can be reached at 317.608.8914 or joseph.weigel@gmail.com.