How Quickly Do Product Managers Need To React To Bad Press About Their Product?

by drjim on November 21, 2008

Bad Press Can Kill A Product If A Product Manager Does Not React Quickly

Bad Press Can Kill A Product If A Product Manager Does Not React Quickly

There is a saying that goes “Any publicity is good publicity”. It turns out that this is wrong. In fact, after having given birth to or adopting a product, a Product Manger can see the good name of their product  vanish almost overnight if they aren’t careful.

A good example of this, on a very large scale, is what happened to United Airlines back in September. Way back in 2002 United’s parent company, UAL, had been forced to file bankruptcy. They had worked their way out of this and it was old news. Until an old article talking about the bankruptcy filing showed up on Google’s news service as apparently new news.

What had happened is that Google’s information gathering technology which cruises the web each evening found a new link on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper’s web site. The article didn’t carry a date but it had been originally published by the Chicago Tribune back in December of 2002. The article had not been there the last time Google’s crawler had visited the Sun-Sentinel’s site and so it was flagged this time as new news.

How this old story had appeared on the Sun-Sentinel’s business news section was originally unclear. However, it is now believed that because of bad weather in south Florida, people had been checking the news about travel delays and enough of them may have stumbled onto the old UAL story by mistake to cause it to be promoted to a high position on the Sun-Sentinel’s list of news stories.

As you can well imagine there are a lot of people who subscribe to services that automatically alert them to any news about UAL. When this new/old story hit Google’s wire, lots of people got an email that told them that UAL had just filed for bankruptcy (remember, there had been no date associated with the original story). Next, stock market research firms picked up the story and finally it hit the Bloomberg financial news service whose stories are treated as gospel. In 15 minutes UAL shares dropped down to $3/share.  Poof – there went UAL’s product.

What does all of this mean to a product manger? In the bold new world of the 21st Century your product’s reputation can be lost litterly overnight if you are not careful. Rightly or wrongly the Internet and the army of automated news collectors and automatic stock trading programs can work together to pummel your product and your firm quicker than you can catch your breath. This is the time for all of us to become good Boy Scouts and “Be Prepared”.

Realizing that an event like this can happen to your product is the first step in preparing a reaction plan. The next step is to assume the worst has happened: bad press about your product has hit the wire. What would you do? The correct response is probably to create a press release, post something prominately on your firm’s web site, and make senior executives available for interviews with the press in order to provide the company’s view on whatever event is being reported.

Instead of running around like a chicken with your head cut off when a bad press event like this happens, why not prepare right now? How much of that press release could you write today? Who would have to review and approve it before it could be released? Do you have their contact info? If you needed to have your web site updated in a hurry, who would do that and would they be available no matter what time of day the update was needed? What members of the press could you get your senior executives in contact with quickly? What have you already done to make them friendly (or at least neutral) towards your company?

All of these are activities that can save your skin and your product in the event of bad press poisoning the well of potential customers that you hope to drink from. Do some work now and you just might save your job later…!

Have you ever had an incorrect story circulate about your product? How did this story start? What did you do to correct the wrong information? Were you able to clear things up? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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