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Company Culture, Employee Management, Retail & Inventory

Small Business Workplace Lessons to be Learned From the NY Times Exposé on Amazon.com


The business sections at all major media sites were recently abuzz about a New York Times article alleging that Amazon is a “bruising” place to work. Here are six ways that Amazon should respond – and you should too – when bad press damages your business’ brand.

No matter how big your business is, the power of the press can be brought to bear in ways that can damage or even destroy your brand’s reputation. Retail giant Amazon.com and its CEO, Jeff Bezos, know this all too well. The company recently found themselves responding to a New York Times article that painted the company’s employee culture in a less-than-stellar light. In the coming weeks, their how they respond to the bad press will dictate whether they are able to minimize damage and strengthen their relationships with customers, employees, vendors and investors.

This doesn’t just happen to well-known companies, though. In fact, it could happen to you. That’s why we’ve created the following list of six brand reputation management tactics that can help Amazon (and you!) combat bad press:  

  1. Resist the Temptation to Counter-Attack

Having your business criticized by the media or discovering a bad review online for the world to see can be a very painful experience, especially if the criticism leveled against your business falls in an area that is important to you. The temptation to respond emotionally with some type of counter-attack can be almost overwhelming; but an emotional response will probably only make things worse.
Leveling counter-attacks like denials, finger pointing, counter-accusations or personal disparagements might seem like a good idea, and might even be true – but they will not be productive in helping you protect the reputation of your brand. Not only can they make you look petty, they can also hurt your credibility or even appear as bully-like behavior. While you should respond quickly, you should focus on only addressing the facts. 

  1. Acknowledge Emotions

While you do not want to respond emotionally by counter-attacking the source of the negative press, it is ok to acknowledge emotions – both your own and those of the individuals who may have been disappointed in your brand or an experience they had doing business with you. Regardless of how many facts they cite, how someone actually felt as a result is still at the heart of every complaint or accusation that they make about your brand.

  1. Open Up the Investigation

Many crisis management plans effectively put brands into lock-down, with tactics meant to limit damage by controlling the flow of communication. While this might seem like a good idea, going into this type of protective mode can also make it look like you have something to hide.

Even if you do not believe that the accusations leveled against your brand or business have merit, opening up an investigation and inviting people within or outside of your company to contact you with more information shows that you would rather get to the heart of the matter than hide anything. You may even find that the criticism had some merit and discover areas of improvement that you had been unaware of before. 

  1. Don’t Shift Accountability

Amazon is not only responding to the New York Times article in the press; they are also responding internally. Jeff Bezos sent an email to Amazon employees inviting open dialogue and the means for dissatisfied employees to escalate concerns not only to the human resources department but even to him, personally. This action leaves no doubt that at the end of the day, accountability for the investigation as well as corrective actions that might need to occur rest on him as the CEO of the company.  

  1. Lay Out a Plan of Corrective Actions and Improvements

Even if criticisms brought against your brand in a bad media report are unfounded, the resulting investigation and feedback gathering you do will probably still reveal areas where you can improve your brand. Whenever possible, take advantage of what you discover to strengthen your brand and its relationships with customers, employees, vendors, investors and the media.

  1. Tell People What You Did

No matter how well you respond and what actions you take to improve your business or brand reputation in the wake of bad press, if no one ever hears what you did, negative brand perceptions might be all that people remember about your business. Make sure that your reputation management strategy calls for letting people know what you did to make your business, brand, or organizational culture better.

No business is perfect. Even if you have the best of intentions, it is possible that a negative media report or a bad customer review that pops up on a review site or social network could produce a hail storm of public scrutiny. If this happens, keep calm and implement your crisis management plan!  Remember that sometimes it’s not what you did, but how you respond afterward that is most important. 

What about you? Have you had a situation where bad press threatened to hurt your business or its reputation?  We would love to know more about how you responded in order to protect your brand, please leave a note in the comments below or Tweet your comment to us @kabbageinc to let us know.