Monday, November 29, 2010

Can Any Good Come From Bad Publicity?

For most of my career in the public relations business I have often felt that occasional, unintended negative publicity in the midst of an ongoing positive campaign can have a neutral to positive effect on an organization.

Strange? Maybe – but maybe not. My reasoning is that unless a company is afflicted by an ongoing crisis which is reported on almost daily in the print, broadcast and social media, most people in due time forget the occasional negative they read or hear and just remember seeing the company or product name in the media.

Now comes some proof that justifies my instincts. Three professors from Wharton and Stanford published research on this subject last month in the journal, Marketing Science, which was reported in The New York Times (10/29):

“A crucial factor is how familiar a brand or product was before the negative publicity. Crunching data that cross-matched book sales against critics’ appraisals, they found that negative reviews of a new book by an established author hurt sales,” but for books by relatively unknown authors, negative publicity had the opposite effect. They found, said The New York Times, that sales of Michael Jackson’s records rose during periods when the singer was in the news for child molestation or dangling his baby over a balcony.

As I had predicted, “follow-up studies pointed out that as time passes, we may not remember the context in which we heard something, we just know it’s familiar.”

Recently when the Gap changed its logo to the enormous disdain of its customers and finally changed it back again because the online shouting got too loud; the complaints were not about the company’s products; they were about the logo. Thus the study showed that the “more indirect the negativity is (about the logo – not the products) the more likely it could have a positive effect (on sales).”

The chairman of a Fortune 500 company, which was a long time client of Makovsky + Company, once made some “out-of-plan” undesirable remarks in an interview with New York Magazine. When I called the client to point out this faux-pas and discuss a solution, he retorted, “Oh I don’t care what they say I said, as long as my name is mentioned.” He obviously understood the dynamics of what was happening here.

Technorati Tags: The New York Times,Stanford, Wharton, publicity, reputation, communications, public relations, business, Makovsky


Anonymous Larry Thomas said...

Interesting post. Thanks, Ken.

I wonder if/how they factored in the archival nature of the web where "context" can be restored with one search and click. Maybe it doesn't matter. As contrary as it seems, there are plenty of examples of 'any pr is good pr' but imho more examples of 'bad pr is bad for business'.

Here's the latest NY Times article on the topic ... about the sleazy owner and tactics of DecorMyEyes.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010 10:47:00 AM  
Anonymous Mark Rose said...

I guess it depends how 'bulletproof' or 'teflon' you're feeling. Vladimir Putin is probably secretly pleased that U.S. diplomats view him warily, as revealed through WikiLeaks. He is a worthy adversary for the U.S., mercurial and dangerous, apparently the traits necessary to carve out a position these days as a world leader competing with Iran or North Korea. Funny how negative publicity works - sometimes people dismiss it, sometimes a minor negative event is never forgotten and can sink a career. I guess it depends how narcissistic and voracious you are. Witness the rapid rise of the 'new' Eliot Spitzer.

Thursday, December 02, 2010 9:41:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home