Boss Lady

Is all publicity really good publicity?


You may have come across the phrase, ‘All publicity is good publicity.’ It’s the idea that it doesn’t matter what people are saying about you or your brand, it only matters that they’re talking about you.

There are many people who subscribe to this train of thought, but as a PR professional who specialises in issues and crisis management, I believe this phrase is very far from the truth. It definitely matters what people are saying about you and your brand, and more often than not, bad publicity is just simply bad publicity and bad for business.

The effects of bad publicity

It’s unlikely anyone will be able to think of Cricket Australia and not be reminded of the 2018 ball tampering scandal, and the bad PR that followed. In the months following the incident, a wave of negative publicity followed the Australian cricket team – a scandal that Cricket Australia is only beginning to recover from. Mistakes made in the public eye can have devastating monetary and reputational effects.

The effects of a bad headline can affect public perception of your brand, the share price of your company (think about the share price tumble of Australian banks in 2018 due to the Royal Commission) and the way your clients or consumers view the brand or product they are engaging with. There is a cost to your reputation with any piece of publicity about your brand, whether positive or negative, and that cost can have a tangible effect on your business. Companies who employ public relations firms recognise the need to protect and build on their reputations, and to limit the damage of negative publicity.

On rare occasions negative press can result in an increase in sales and website click-throughs. This can be seen as a great thing from a company’s point of view, however it usually comes at a cost and I’d advise companies and brands to tread carefully. Any uplift is usually temporary, and not worth risking your company’s long-term reputation for.

Managing bad publicity

Not all media-worthy issues that arise within a company or organisation can be avoided before they happen. At Hunter Communications, we work with a range of organisations on preparing teams to proactively deal with issues and crises. Whether it’s a detailed issues management plan or a one-page summary for team members, it is important that staff managing the publicity know what to say and who can say it.

Responding quickly, concisely and with transparency to media in times of issues or crises is one of the best ways to ensure the media continue to come to you for information, and not to a potential competitor or disgruntled stakeholder.

The effects of good publicity

Just as bad publicity can have a tangible impact on your business in a negative way, good publicity can increase sales, generate positive public sentiment and increase a brand’s reputation. A positive review of your latest product in a prominent publication can see sales lift quickly, which is why many companies invest in their marketing and communications before a big launch. There are great benefits to proactively engaging with the media when you have a good news story to tell.

The ability to turn around bad PR into good PR can have an incredible impact. The Johnson & Johnson Tylenol crisis in the early 80s was a prime example of a company learning by its past poor crisis communications to ensure any future issues did not comprise the brand again.  The first crisis saw inaction and as such the $1b was wiped from the company’s value.  When a similar incident happened a few years later Johnson and Johnson leapt into action. They quickly pulled the products off the shelves, halting advertising of the product and then commencing a campaign to win back customer trust. It was this prompt action and communications that led to Johnson and Johnson inventing the tamper proof packaging that nearly all brands use today.

What could have led to the demise of a company instead turned into a positive PR story for the brand and their championing of public safety.

What about PR stunts?

Many brands make use of the PR stunt: a potential event, activation or piece of news designed to deliver maximum impact in the media and generate publicity. In late 2018, a painting by provocative street artist Bansky was seen to have spontaneously self-shredded at a Sotheby’s auction, just as the piece had been sold. The incident generated widespread media coverage through all channels and is a great example of a PR stunt that was ‘on brand’ for the artist. Earlier this year, Qantas’ CEO Alan Joyce generated positive publicity both for the airline and its new ‘Future High Flyers’ program with his response to a 10-year-old boy seeking to start his own airline. A good PR stunt is one that aligns with your company’s brand values and is specifically designed to reach your intended target audience. Authenticity is key!

In today’s fast-moving digital world, savvy readers and consumers are quick to jump on and publicise any missteps. It is increasingly important for companies to be aware of what the media and members of the public are saying about them and their brand. After all, not all publicity generates positive outcomes.

If you find yourself or your company in a crisis and are not sure where to turn, don’t bury your head in the sand, seek professional PR assistance – it could mean the difference between the end of your business and saving your business.

About Nicole Moody'

Nicole Moody is widely recognised as one of the most senior and experienced communication professionals in Perth, Western Australia. She is the Managing Director of Perth-based Hunter Communications. Her extensive career has involved working in Australia and London in the highest levels of public relations, government and journalism. With her passion for communication and a commitment to achieving outstanding results for clients, Nicole has built her client base at Hunter to include some of Western Australia’s biggest brands and companies. Along with managing strategic communications issues, Nicole has advised on numerous ‘front page’ media issues, crisis management and recovery, and brand reputation and management. A highly experienced and results-driven communications manager, Nicole brings the same energy and passion that has made her a multi award-winner and leader in her field to every job and every client.

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