Let’s shoot this one down right away. There is such a thing as bad publicity. Some things that make the news are so awful, there’s just no coming back from them.
Fortunately, for most people and most businesses, 'bad publicity' generally isn't terminal.
In fact, there are many instances where something that might seem bad publicity at the time can actually turn out to be not so bad over the longer term.
What’s prompted this blog is the announcement of Alan Hansen to retire from Match of the Day after 22 years – a great TV career. The issue that made Hansen such a noted pundit (and the one he repeatedly cites himself) is the famous/infamous “You’ll win nothing with kids” comment as Manchester United went down 3-1 to Aston Villa at the start of the 1995/96 football season.
He got it spectacularly wrong. That United team, including ‘kids’ Beckham, Scholes, the Neville brothers and Giggs, went on to win both the Premier League and the FA Cup that season.
So why did Hansen go on to be one of TV’s most enduring football pundits, when he made such a high profile, incorrect call?
Well, everybody who watches sport knows that things like that can happen. People liked Hansen’s opinionated style of punditry. He was also able to show that, generally, he had a good understanding of the game. The fact that he got it so wrong, allowed the football community to give him some ‘banter’ about it. He took it on the chin. We like that. His stock rose.
Similarly, from a corporate point of view, you can sometimes turn bad publicity into a positive thing.
People make mistakes or misjudgements, everybody accepts that. It’s how you respond that’s important. It’s essential that you understand your audience, don’t try to blag them, demonstrate that you've taken action to put right what went wrong and show a bit of humility.
There are many cases where, sometime after a ‘crisis’ situation has occurred and been dealt with in the right way, the company’s fortunes have improved to a much greater level than they were likely to reach had the crisis not occurred.
[Note of caution: we wouldn’t recommend this as a marketing strategy].
In today’s digital and social media world, responses also need to be made much more quickly than they used to, as negative press can spread much faster, gathering momentum as it goes. While the situation can still be recovered, it might take longer and cost more and the damage done in the meantime might be expensive – reputation-wise, financially or both.
And one final thought. You can get away with making the odd mistake if, generally, you do the right things or do things in the right way. If it happens too often, it starts to define your brand and no amount of PR will change that.