Has your organization been the subject of unfair or inaccurate press reports?
If it hasn’t happened yet, it will at some point. It’s a rite of passage for successful enterprises. And it doesn’t have to be a bad thing if you’re prepared to respond — as firms like Alpha Consulting Limited and Asiaciti Trust did so well in the aftermath of misleading reports about the Pandora Papers, a large-scale unauthorized data release in 2021.
Still, negative media coverage is unwelcome and harmful. It’s a cost of doing business in places that value freedom of the press, yes, but that doesn’t make it any less problematic.
Here’s why the potential for bad press coverage matters to your organization — and what you can do to limit the downside.
It Creates a Psychological Burden for Your Team and Stakeholders
Negative news coverage can hurt your organization’s reputation. More insidiously, it can create a persistent burden on the mental health of your employees and stakeholders — those responsible for safeguarding and celebrating your reputation.
That’s according to a study described in Psychology Today, which finds significant correlation between negative news items and poor mental health outcomes. Bad press makes your team’s work harder and saps its morale.
It Could Even Harm Your Stakeholders’ Physical Health
The health impacts of bad news coverage don’t stop there. According to the BBC, people consistently exposed to bad news have worse physical health outcomes over time. The BBC reports on a University of California, Irvine study that found people who consumed hours of daily news coverage about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing experienced high rates of acute stress — with measurable impacts on health indicators like blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
It Disproportionately Shapes Public Opinion
Negative news coverage also has disproportionate power to shape public opinion of your organization, according to the BBC. Its story cites a Russian newspaper that decided to report exclusively “good news” for one day in 2014 — and promptly lost more than half its readership. In other words, news consumers tend to gravitate toward bad news and reward publishers that emphasize it.
We saw this in the aftermath of the Pandora Papers, where Asiaciti Trust, Alpha Consulting Limited, and other affected organizations found themselves pushing back on mischaracterizations of their business practices. Without expertise in international tax law or accounting practices, readers bought the questionable claims in sensational stories about the Pandora Papers incident.
It Creates a Culture of Fear and Worry Around Your Brand
This effect is more difficult to measure but no less of a threat. Just as negative news coverage fosters fear, uncertainty, and doubt in general, negative news coverage attached to your brand fosters those negative emotions specifically in relation to said brand.
Obviously, to the extent that this pushes customers away, that’s bad news for your organization. The antidote is old-fashioned reputation repair — cultivating positive earned media mentions, contextualizing inaccurate stories, and building a brighter narrative to counterbalance negative sentiment.
It Makes Your Team Less Productive
Teams don’t work as well when they’re distracted. That’s just a fact. Your team deals with enough distractions in normal times, including sensational (and often negative) news items. Imagine the pressure they’ll face when your organization is the subject of those items.
It Diverts Resources From “Business As Usual”
Negative news coverage requires an urgent response — if not “all hands on deck,” then certainly many. This inevitably diverts resources from the everyday activities that keep your business humming along. Unless you’re able to make up those resources, which is unlikely in the throes of a public relations crisis, your enterprise will suffer over time.
It Pays to Get the Story Right
Contrary to popular belief, journalists and media personalities don’t operate in a consequence-free environment. They and their employers are beholden to their readers, viewers, subscribers, and — perhaps most important of all — advertisers. Public and private pressure can and very often does compel them to change their tune.
Of course, journalists and publishers should care about getting the story right for its own sake. Knowingly publishing misleading or outright false information in an effort to boost engagement or increase clout might work in the near term, but it’s incredibly shortsighted.
As we’ve seen, it can have real consequences for the subjects of misinformation too. Due in part to misleading coverage of the Pandora Papers, firms like Asiaciti Trust and Alpha Consulting Limited faced existential threats to their reputations and livelihoods. They didn’t ask for those threats, but it fell on them to fend them off.
The importance of a free press is paramount. But with great freedom comes great responsibility too.