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Defending Your Brand: Expert Strategies for Handling Negative Press

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When “Marvel Rivals” by NetEase Games was on the verge of release in May 2024, it received much of the normal press you would expect when a new video game is about to drop. There were articles about the latest trailers and what they revealed, what gameplay would look and feel like, and when a final release of the title could be expected.

However, Marvel Rivals also received some press that was not the norm. The wording in a contract NetEase extended to prospective previewers sparked some press that cast the company in a negative light.

One popular video game streamer described the situation in a tweet: “Extremely disappointed in Marvel Rivals. Multiple creators asked for key codes to gain access to the playtest and are asked to sign a contract. The contract signs away your right to negatively review the game.”

The streamer’s tweet received more than 3 million views, which may have had something to do with the negative press that percolated to the top of Google News for searches involving Marvel Rivals. The news reported NetEase had “blocked streamers from criticizing the game” and “forbade negative reactions.”

How did NetEase respond? The good news is that a quick response from the company that addressed the contract and the previewers’ concerns seems to have contained the situation before it could deteriorate. NetEase owned the mistake, apologized, and revealed its commitment to doing better moving forward.

The action taken by NetEase as the Marvel Rivals situation unfolded provides a textbook case study on how businesses should engage when news reports threaten their credibility. The following steps were central to NetEase’s strategy, but should also be considered by any business suddenly facing negative press.

Respond quickly and transparently

When negative reports on your business begin bubbling to the surface of the media landscape, it can be tempting to sit back and wait to see how things will unfold. You might think the storm will blow itself out or that any oxygen you throw on it with your response will just make the media fire burn higher, but you must resist that temptation and respond quickly and transparently.

The NetEase case provides a great illustration of why a quick response is helpful. The majority of headlines on the Marvel Rivals story mention the contract component that was frustrating previewers as well as the apology from NetEase. One BBC headline from May 12 read, “Marvel Rivals developer apologizes after banning negative reviews” while the IGN headline from May 13 read, “Marvel Rivals Dev Apologizes for Contract That Blocked Creators From Criticizing the Game.” 

By responding quickly, NetEase was able to craft the narrative surrounding the situation to include not just a problem but also a solution. A quick response shows that a business is listening to its customers and cares what they think.

Engage with empathy

As the BBC article reported, NetEase’s response to complaints included a statement that said it was sorry for the “confusion, suspicion, and frustration caused by these excessively restrictive terms.” Rather than ignoring, denying, or deflecting, NetEase acknowledged the problem and took ownership by responding with empathy, showing it understood and appreciated the position in which it had put its previewers.

We live in an age dominated by customer feedback. Social media channels allow every user to be an influential user, and most potential users pay close attention to those influencers.

Engaging with empathy shows users and potential users you have a genuine concern for their experience. Here is how NetEase responded on X: “We cherish and appreciate every suggestion given by our players and always respect your feedback. We are currently working with Creators who have expressed these concerns and are revising the current version to be less restrictive and more Creator-friendly. Thank you for bearing with us while we make these adjustments.”

Utilize effective communication channels

Quickly crafting an empathetic and transparent response is the first step in addressing negative press. Making sure your audience sees the response is the next step, which can be accomplished by effectively utilizing appropriate communication channels.

Generally speaking, you should address the issue wherever people are talking about it. For NetEase, going to X to address its issue made perfect sense since that’s where its fans get their information. Providing press releases to the outlets covering the story can also be valuable. The key is showing up where the conversation is happening and engaging in a constructive and productive way.

It’s also important that businesses continue to monitor communication channels to know how their response is received. Issuing a statement — no matter how quick, empathetic, and transparent it is — will rarely be the end of it, so pay attention to the feedback and reinforce or update your position as needed.

Learn and adapt

As companies get on the other side of a negative press situation, they should invest time in analyzing the situation. Identifying what went wrong can help to avoid those types of missteps in the future. Analyzing what went right in terms of the effectiveness of the media response can help fine-tune strategies to be even more effective in the future.

Every business faces negative press eventually. Whether it’s a customer complaint, a social media gaffe, or an unforeseen scandal, it can damage your reputation. But with the right approach, you can minimize the impact and emerge even stronger.

About the author


Thomas Mustac

Thomas is Otter PR's medical and health industry PR specialist. He previously held positions at the Dr. Oz Show and New York Medical College. He has his Master's Degree from Iona College and received an Advanced Certification in Nonprofit Public Relations. He has a diverse background in healthcare, pharmaceutical, telehealth, tech, cosmetics, sports, and interior design public relations.