As the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and most companies will experience potentially damaging media coverage at some point or another. In these situations, we look to Public Relations experts like Michael Guzzo from BERKMAN to manage and maintain a brand’s image and reputation. Print editorials written by subjective, investigative reporters can be damaging to a brand’s image, but when handled properly can act as a positive tool rather than a backwards downturn.

Guzzo’s PR prescription? Be prepared, be confident, and never falter.

Although it is not always possible to avoid these situations, there are some ways to prepare your company and/or its spokespeople. First, always research the reporter who wants an interview. Find out what types of stories they write and what views they have on your topic. Having this knowledge will better prepare the interviewee for what lies ahead. Although you never want to approach an interview on the defensive, it’s helpful to prepare responses to what may be uncomfortable questions.

Regardless of how well the interview went, you rarely have control over what is written, and a potentially damaging editorial piece may be released. So, what is Guzzo’s number one rule when dealing with biased reporters? Guzzo says, “Never be reactive. Always be proactive and continuously resonate your brand’s and company’s key messages.”

Direct response to the article automatically puts your company on the defensive, as if you are admitting to wrong doing. Ideally, the article will have opened up a public debate, creating a platform to reinforce your key messages while positioning your spokespeople or executives as experts on the particular issue. While the story is new and hot, the company must consistently relay what the brand represents through the use of social media outlets, blogs, and third party endorsements.

Another important step to take is to ensure that all people associated with the brand – sales teams, customer service reps, front desk personnel, etc. – know how to effectively and professionally respond to any questions about the article. Arm these individuals with established speaking points so that they don’t falter or provide false information if and when they are approached by additional media or skeptical customers. Depending on the nature of the controversy, it might be best to direct all inquiries to a trained spokesperson. Just keep in mind that more runaround is typically misconceived as a lack in confidence.

Most people’s first reaction will be to publicly condemn the accusations made against their company. Staying the course and seeking appropriate opportunities that best position your company will have a much better public response.

Crisis management is one aspect of Public Relations that is not necessarily the most sought after, but mastering this art is crucial when in the make it or break it moments of public relations.