How to manage bad press

Over the weekend, the proverbial doo-doo hit the proverbial fan for one of our members. It’s been a lousy weekend. The owner of a home sewing pattern company (let’s call her Tammy) has accused our friend (let’s call her Amy) of using her retail pattern to make her products. From what I know personally and from what can be determined from a cursory comparison of the two items via photos- there’s no legitimacy to the claim. Tammy didn’t even email, write or call Amy to say that she thought her patterns were infringed upon. She just posted the claim to her website with Amy’s logo displayed; news of which has spread via consumer blogs and forums that specialize in this niche product.

Amy has worked tirelessly to become one of the leaders in her niche. She’s well known, consumers love her products. The items are discussed endlessly in blogs and forums. As it happens, Tammy also sells ready made products made of her pattern. Her products aren’t so successful; her reputation of poor fit and quality are cited as ongoing issues. Worse, she resides in California and she doesn’t have a license. Ouch. One would think she would have tidied up that detail before creating a lot of publicity for herself. She thinks she doesn’t need a license because she doesn’t make “garments” (isn’t underwear a garment?). Not that it matters, the state of California takes a dim view of manufacturer’s self-serving interpretive semantics. In sum, Tammy’s integrity is questionable with her history of only following rules or accepted standard practices that suit her.


So, what do you do? How quickly do you act? How do you respond? My first thought was that Amy should get a lawyer and have those images yanked from Tammy’s website, with letters sent to both the company in question and their hosting provider.

My second idea is proofs to discount the claims. I will be digitizing both patterns for a comparison. I will be posting that here once I get them. The biggest problem with that being that Amy doesn’t have one of Tammy’s patterns so one must be acquired. I think the comparison will be a useful entry on forensic pattern making. I can’t be more specific right now but the claim is ludicrous -laughable. Tammy just laid Amy’s product on top of her pattern, didn’t disassemble it (there’s lots of elastic in it) and it’s too bunched up to tell from the sideways view (should have been head on, birds-eye view) but it’s obvious that the pattern is of different dimensions. Some of the responses from consumers have been that Tammy is either jealous or off her rocker (that reputation also precedes her), not that being nuts couldn’t mean she wasn’t right of course. Many casual viewers (non professionals) agree the items differ significantly in addition to mentioning the comparison wasn’t scientific by any means. Many seem to feel Tammy has created the controversy at Amy’s expense in order to bolster her own brand. On the other hand, there are some real loonies habituating these forums. They’re scary! While none concur the products match, they’re only too happy to take pot shots at Amy’s company for other imagined infractions.

Back to the questions of what do you do and how do you respond, how do you deal with this kind of controversy? It’s likely many of Amy’s customers don’t know of the controversy. In such case, is it appropriate to make a statement and supply proofs on one’s website? Once the proofs are in, the disparities will be so obvious to the extent that Amy may then be accused of being heavy handed. As I said, some people don’t care or don’t disagree the products differ. They just like icon-toppling. It strikes me as a case of working your way to the top and getting kudos for struggling to get there, only to find that when you get there, there’s a mob waiting to tear you (or whoever else is there) down. So what do you do?

Then, the other school of thought says that no press is bad. A friend says she was very dispirited when a lot of bad reviews of her products were posted on the internet until she measured the uptick in sales. People ended up buying her products just to see what was so bad about them. They then stayed on as regular customers. Amy’s situation is a bit different though, it’s her integrity that’s being questioned.

I found this site that had some tips for managing bad news. Not all applies here but one thing mentioned that’s helpful to remember if/when this happens to you is that “even if you are honest and always operate with the best of intentions, at some time you may expectantly find yourself in the limelight of negative publicity.” In other words, try not to take it personally and be proactive in managing attacks to your character and integrity. Done well, your management of the crisis can be a further testament to your integrity.

There’s also a long list of articles on PR crisis management that may be helpful to you. Heaven forbid something like this should happen to you. Any ideas or suggestions you post would be wonderful.

[Amended]
A thread has been created in the forum for members to discuss the matter in private. View the web site and and photos thus far and judge for yourself.

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9 comments

  1. Vesta says:

    We recently went through a product recall due to some faulty parts incorporated into our product (missed by our third party testing of these manufactured items). We reacted quickly and honestly, and in the end no one was hurt. We responded to questions openly, honestly, and promptly. Then we sat back and waited for the fall-out. Now that it’s over, I’d have to say that no news is bad news, IF you are up front about things.

    In this situation, I would not post any refutation on Amy’s website. There is no need to drag Amy’s customers into this, if they don’t already care. But if they email, asking questions, be straight up and tell them what you know about the situation. Basically, Tammy’s weirdness doesn’t deserve any more attention than it can generate on its own. But it also can’t be ignored, if nervous customers come to Amy looking for some reassurance.

  2. Josh says:

    I would absolutely get all trademarks and logos ripped off of Tammy’s website. And as quickly as possible.

    If I were Amy I would not feed the beast by mentioning it on my website. It will only fuel the whole situation and give it more life. In fact it probably will only make more people aware of it.

    If I can get shirley-maclaine-new-agey for a moment. I would not resist or react to this situation. The universe is teaching a lesson. Flow with it and accept it. Go within and find out what’s really going on here.

  3. J C Sprowls says:

    Not much more to add, here. I think Vesta and Josh covered it. I do agree that it is time for all of us to write our crisis management plans – the links you mention will guide that.

    And, for Amy, definitely take the moral high ground:
    – Line up the legal professional to lend “teeth” to the request to remove your artwork from Tammy’s site. You may not have recourse for the content, yet; but, you do own the copyright of your logo and other brand artwork.
    – Prepare your statement so you are ready to respond honestly when someone asks. I would not invite questions. I would let Tammy’s tantrum generate whatever press it can under its own volition.
    – A press release or a rebuttal on Amy’s website (despite all temptation) wouldn’t be appropriate. Unlike Vesta’s situation, you don’t need the consumer to do something, yet. IOW: size the response to the crisis you need to manage.

  4. CBM says:

    Good points Vesta.

    http://www.fastcompany.com/articles/2008/06/interview-charlene-li.html

    Please read the article in this link. It is an interview with Charlene Li, who gives some very good tips on how to deal with press in the age of bloggers, the internet and your products. She talks about something called the Streisand Effect.

    Personally, I would NOT ignore bad press about my company, which really does and can affect the bottom line. Ignoring this will not make it go away. The key is to be honest and upfront about the situation. I hope everything gets sraightened out.

  5. Karen C says:

    Forget the lawyers and all the other fuss. I think it’s time to just take a deep breath and then Amy can pick up the phone and call Tammy, and explain to her that she’s never even owned one of her patterns or product. Try to be nice and see what happens (you know, diplomacy). Then if that doesn’t work, send Tammy a cease and desist letter (certified, return receipt), giving her 48 hours to take the logo down. Then if that doesn’t work–flame her good.

  6. Alan says:

    This is a great post. I agree with the majority of the comments here, Amy take the moral high ground.

    If asked by any customers just simply respond, I stand behind my product and reputation, there is no basis to any allegations of intellectual property infringement. Don’t even mention Tammy.

    I do suggest you consult a lawyer. Here is a freelance IP attorney who will agree to a course of action and give you a fixed price (something very rare for IP lawyers) http://www.ralphgaboury.com/ I’ve used him extensively with good results at a reasonable price.

    I’ll send him this link and ask him to post a comment.

  7. Kathleen, no, there is nothing that can be said. No flaming. Nothing on the site. Just a careful reply to people with specific questions.

    Those people on the thread who are more worried about taking sides, building and breaking alliances, labelling people as “mean,” bullying, than in using any kind of analytical thought? There is no way to reach them. Think of them as a bunch of poopy trolls.

    To paraphrase an old saying:
    “Arguing with a troll is like wrestling with a pig. You both get covered in s*** and the pig enjoys it.”

  8. I almost emailed this one to you when it came up, but:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hillarylang/tags/alimrose

    It was then followed by the Alimrose owner bullying a (different) blogger into removing a post because of its comments, some of which lives on in Bloglines’ cache (and what doesn’t, I have archived, except for the comments that I unfortunately didn’t see before they were zapped):

    http://www.bloglines.com/search?q=alimrose

    And I still get hits on searches for related terms (and from more than the involved parties’ ISPs), so I know it’s hanging around to haunt the (pretty clearly, in this case) guilty party indefinitely.

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