PR is a longstanding strategic and beneficial instrument used by businesses and individuals to shape their public image and manage their reputation. But various myths have woven themselves into the fabric of the field over time.
One such myth is the notion that “all PR is good PR.”
Quality and authenticity matter more than a fleeting moment of attention.
The repercussions of negative PR can be detrimental and lead to the erosion of credibility, a decline in customer trust, and even potential legal consequences.
Where Did the Tell Tale “All PR Is Good PR” Statement Derive From?
Short answer: No clue! The exact origin of the phrase is unknown and cannot be definitively attributed to a specific individual.
It has been used colloquially over time and often represents a general belief that any type of public attention, even if negative, can still have some positive outcomes in terms of visibility and awareness.
However, as we’ll talk about in this article, this oversimplification ignores the potential long-term damage that negative publicity can cause.
In reality, not all PR is created equal, and the impact of PR efforts should be evaluated based on their alignment with organizational goals and values.
What Would Make a Campaign “Bad PR,” or Negative PR?
Negative PR occurs when the message communicated to the public generates backlash, damages the organization’s reputation, or alienates key stakeholders.
This can happen due to insensitive messaging, controversial actions, or a misalignment between the message and the audience’s values. More common scenarios include endorsing offensive stereotypes, making thoughtless remarks, or engaging in practices that disregard social responsibility.
For instance, if a company launches a marketing campaign that inadvertently belittles a marginalized community, the resulting outrage from the public could lead to a severe dent in the company’s image and a loss of trust among consumers.
The consequences of negative PR can be dire. It often results in the erosion of credibility, a decline in customer trust, and, in some cases, even legal consequences if the actions breach legal or regulatory boundaries.
Therefore, it is of paramount importance for organizations to consider the potential impact of their actions on their public image and reputation.
Can a Negative PR Campaign Be Turned Around?
Absolutely, a negative PR campaign is not necessarily a death sentence for an organization’s reputation. With the implementation of effective strategies and actions, it is indeed possible to reverse the tide of negative sentiment.
The initial and critical step involves acknowledging the issue at hand and taking full responsibility for any missteps or miscommunications.
For instance, if a product release generates widespread disappointment due to quality issues, a prompt acknowledgment of the problem demonstrates accountability.
Swift and sincere apologies are a cornerstone of the turnaround process.
They convey empathy towards those affected and signify the organization’s commitment to addressing the concerns.
Such apologies should be backed by tangible corrective actions aimed at rectifying the situation. In the case of the flawed product, offering refunds or replacement products can demonstrate a genuine desire to make amends.
Transparent communication is another linchpin in the effort to salvage a tarnished reputation. Keeping stakeholders, including customers and the public, informed about the actions being taken and the progress being made showcases an organization’s dedication to rectification.
However, it’s vital to recognize that the process of reversing negative PR is not instantaneous. A sincere and consistent commitment to change is required. Demonstrating sustained efforts to rectify the issues that led to the negative PR and consistently communicating these efforts can gradually rebuild trust.
Consider the example of a restaurant chain that faces backlash due to reported cases of foodborne illness. By swiftly closing affected branches, conducting thorough investigations, collaborating with health authorities, and implementing stricter safety protocols, the chain can gradually restore customer confidence in its food quality and safety.
To summarize, while turning around negative PR is challenging, it is possible with a combination of prompt action, genuine remorse, transparent communication, and a steadfast commitment to rectify the issues that led to the unfavorable publicity.
What Is the Correlation Between Bad PR & Crisis Communications?
The relationship between bad PR and crisis communications is akin to a chain reaction that, if not managed adeptly, can have severe consequences for an organization.
Negative PR or publicity, when left unaddressed, can escalate into a full-blown crisis that imperils the very core of an entity’s operations, reputation, and financial stability.
Imagine a scenario where a tech company’s software update triggers a massive data breach affecting millions of users. Initial negative PR might arise from media reports highlighting the breach’s extent and potential consequences. If the company fails to address this in the media promptly and transparently, the situation could snowball into a crisis that not only damages the company’s image but also results in legal actions, loss of customer trust, and regulatory scrutiny.
Crisis communication comes into play as a strategic response to mitigate the fallout of such situations and effectively manage the crisis.
Remember: the focus of crisis communication should be on resolution. The goal is to minimize impact and navigate through the storm while preserving as much reputation and credibility as possible.
What is a crisis communications plan?
A well-defined crisis communication plan outlines key roles, responsibilities, and communication protocols within the organization. It ensures that the right messages are disseminated to various stakeholders, from customers and employees to investors and the media.
The role of leaders in time of crisis
Effective and clear leadership is crucial during times of crisis. Organizations that appoint a spokesperson or leader to engage with the public portray a cohesive stance that imparts a feeling of authority and guidance.
This designated representative should exhibit a deep understanding of the situation, showcase empathy for affected parties, and demonstrate the capacity to communicate adeptly under pressure. It could prove beneficial for them to undergo media training beforehand, equipping them to effectively interact with the media during moments of crisis as well as times of positive developments.
Bad PR in Real Life: 3 Examples from the Past Decade
Below are three real-life examples that underscore the critical role of timely, empathetic, and transparent responses in mitigating the impact of bad PR.
United Airlines’ Passenger Removal Incident
What Happened: A widely circulated video capturing a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight caused a firestorm of public outrage. After going viral, the incident cast a dark shadow over the airline’s reputation, leading to intense negative PR.
The Response: Unfortunately, United’s initial response was met with criticism for its lack of empathy and understanding. The company’s failure to promptly address the concerns only served to exacerbate the negative sentiment, resulting in prolonged damage to its reputation.
Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner Ad
What Happened: Pepsi’s ill-fated ad featuring Kendall Jenner attempting to bridge social divides with a can of soda was met with swift backlash. The commercial was lambasted for being perceived as trivializing social justice movements. The ad was criticized for being tone-deaf and insincere, and had the perception of undermining the seriousness of the causes it referenced.
The Response: Responding quickly, Pepsi withdrew the ad promptly and issued a public apology. This swift action helped to mitigate further damage to the company’s reputation, albeit with a valuable lesson learned.
Facebook’s Data Privacy Scandals
What Happened: Over the years, Facebook found itself entangled in a series of data privacy controversies that significantly impacted its public image. The negative PR stemming from mishandled user data and privacy breaches triggered widespread condemnation and even government investigations.
The Response: In this case, the company’s sluggish response and perceived lack of transparency played a pivotal role in intensifying the negative sentiment. As the negative PR snowballed, Facebook’s reputation took a considerable hit. Only through sustained efforts to enhance privacy controls, greater transparency, and closer cooperation with regulators did the company manage to partially address the damage to its reputation.
What Can You Do If You’re a Target from the Media Due to Bad Publicity?
If you or your organization find yourselves under the harsh spotlight of negative media coverage, maintaining composure is the best path forward.
Amid the storm, it’s imperative to engage with the situation professionally, and resist getting involved in public arguments at all cost. Instead, channel your efforts into a strategic response that portrays professionalism and a commitment to resolution.
In the face of adversity, actions speak volumes. Counteract the negative discourse by actively showcasing positive initiatives that align with your organization’s values. Whether it’s participating in community outreach, supporting charitable causes, or demonstrating operational improvements, these affirmative endeavors can help reshape the public’s perception.
Collaborating with experienced PR professionals can be a game-changer. Enlisting the expertise of a reputable PR agency, such as Pace Public Relations, brings specialized knowledge and skills to the table.
A seasoned publicist can help craft a comprehensive crisis communication plan, navigate media interactions, and implement a go-forward strategy with a strong focus on rebuilding trust and reputation.
Concluding Thoughts: Collaborate with a Reliable PR Agency
Admittedly, navigating the world of public relations is not for the faint of heart.
It requires expertise, strategy, and a deep understanding of human psychology and media dynamics.
Rather than relying on the thought that “all PR is good PR” – which has been proved a million times over to be a completely unfounded myth – organizations should strive for ethical, well-planned PR campaigns that align with their values and goals.
They can provide the insight and guidance needed to effectively manage reputation, respond to crises, and build lasting positive relationships with the public.