• Barbora Müllerová

A few words about negative publicity

Some weeks ago, one of our clients, a small, friendly start-up company, had a piece of coverage with a negative tone. They had only been working on their PR for about 6 months and had received some great feedback. The owner had several interviews in the media including one of the main newspapers. We saw lots of positive words from bloggers and influencers. The company even began to attract more business. Reading the article saddened me a bit as it was the first time it happened and I thought they might be confused or disappointed or both. It got me thinking about the best way to explain why this is actually not all that bad.

Most people have, at some point, heard the saying “There is no such thing as bad publicity”. But is it as simple as that?

Imagine you’re a big brand car manufacturer, and it becomes public that a certain line of your car production which is now on the market, has a faulty brake. This kind of news will surely get lots of coverage in all kinds of media and bring lots of bad publicity. For many years, the company has had a stable customer base and experienced pretty much the same sales. Even if the faulty brake news eventually proves to be just a rumour, or the company’s crisis communication team does an excellent job, the sales will drop for certain period. The company would have been better off if the bad publicity never happened.

A few months ago, you may have heard about the rock band Threatin. This band from the USA booked a European tour in popular clubs and secured a reasonable amount of sold tickets in advance. They also had almost 40,000 followers on social media, so it looked like the band was rather popular. It must have been a huge surprise for the first venue when literally two people showed up for the gig! Naturally the band received lots of bad publicity; the number of claimed tickets sales was a lie, and the followers on social media were paid for. Having said all that, if this band was only able to get two people coming to their concert before, it is guaranteed that they would now get many more if they planned a tour after all this publicity! I even know more than two people who want to see their gig: out of curiosity, to meet people behind this huge prank, or just for fun because people actually strangely like bad things sometimes.

For a small company starting out, the goal of PR activities is to let people know that their product or service exists, especially if it is a new unfamiliar product for the particular market. However, if there is already established competition on the market, the goal also includes showing why their product is better. In a way, for my start-up client who does not have a regular client base yet, there is not so much to lose. If nobody talks about them, nobody knows about them. If someone occasionally talks about them in a bit of a negative way, it will still inform people that their product exists. They might be even more curious to find out information about the product this way, and then make their own opinion. In this case, there is no doubt that even bad publicity is good.

Whether bad publicity is actually negative or positive is very individual and sometimes there can be quite a fine line between the two. The same bad publicity can even be both negative and positive for the same company given other factors, such as the type of product or the company's place on the market at the moment. As I expected, our client freaked out about the negative tone used in this piece of coverage. They were upset with the journalist and wanted to act immediately. Then we talked about it...

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