Ten Top Tips: How to deal with controversy

Mark Oaten, CEO of the International Fur Trade Federation, knows all about controversy. Here's how he handles bad press.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

1.       Establish the facts before you comment - there is often a big difference between wild claims and reality.  You might think you’ll kill a story by coming up with an immediate response, but you must establish the facts first.  Politics taught me the wisdom of taking my time. Never ever trust hearsay – always check with the original source.

2.       Never lose your cool – when under fire never, ever lose your temper when giving an interview to a journalist, be it in print, or on TV or radio. You will always come across badly and news footage will haunt you in the months and years to come.

3.       Never resort to dirty tricks - when they come together, industry people can often become detached from the world at large and allow their imaginations to run away with them. While a dirty tricks campaign cooked up in the context of a conspiratorial gathering might seems like a good idea at the time, it will almost always backfire in the real world and is never a sensible strategy.


4.       Don’t be overly defensive - just because you are facing controversy or represent an emotive industry remember that you are allowed your say. Don’t be overly cautious or defensive when there is no need. Acknowledge that you operate in an emotive world and understand that feelings can run high.


5.       Focus on positive facts – public opinion responds well to facts. Be clear about what your business or your industry delivers financially and economically. If it provides many jobs globally or does good that may not be obvious then tell your story.  Facts that cannot be disputed can often work well to soften resistance.  


6.       Be relaxed about those who oppose you – the easiest way to treat people who are hostile is to be relaxed around them. Experience has shown me that if you acknowledge their right to have a point of view, that can defuse tensions.


7.       If your industry has made a mistake then quickly say sorry – If the facts reveal that you/your business are at fault admit it and say sorry. Sorry is a very powerful word and should be used more in business. Far too often it comes so late that no one really believes you when you say it.


8.       Don’t take the attacks personally – if you represent an industry that people feel hostile towards, when someone appears to be making a swipe, remember that they are in fact attacking the position you hold, not you. If you take it personally it will bring you down. You must learn to detach yourself.


9.      Smile and remember there are many worse things in life to worry about – far too many people forget that after all it’s only a job. Of course you are passionate and work hard but a good dose of perspective will allow you to handle things better.

10.   Get your mavericks under control – Whatever you may do as CEO to manage your company’s reputation can easily be wrecked by a wildcard in the organisation.  For those internally who question your approach, show them, rather than tell them, how best practice has worked for the benefit of your business.

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