There’s No Such Thing As Bad Publicity

I imagine you’ve seen a viral video on LinkedIn which has made you cringe.

“Which one?”… right?

They’re pretty hard to ignore.

Whether it’s a slo-mo montage of jet-setters, awkward video job ads or motivational speeches berating an entire team for poor time management, awkwardness is everywhere.

The internet’s a little like an elephant. Hard to ignore, hard to stop and it never forgets.

So the capacity to go viral’s a tool you’ll be thankful of. True ‘virality’ is when one person likes a post, and the next person who sees it, likes it too.

Both emotionally and physically.

Unfortunately, ‘going viral’ isn’t always positive.

You don’t need me to tell you that. But is the damage of a negative viral post truly negative?

Is bad PR to a sceptical audience the worst thing in the world? Should you delete a post and pretend it never happened? Or should you address it in the comments, hoping you’re forgiven for misguidance?

Or should you leave the post up, revelling in your new found fame? Many people take this approach. They exhume pride as if people knowing their brand is the number one intention.

“There’s no such a thing as bad publicity” someone comments. They agree. And everyone carries on.

Is there though? Or should you be mindful of your reputation online?

1979 Grammy Music Awards

There’s only one thing worse than being talked about

The infamous Oscar Wilde once claimed the above. The answer of course was ‘not being talked about.’ But he died, aged 46, from syphilis, so perhaps it’s not universally true.

However, does being talked about on negative terms beat not being talked about in the first place?

There’s quite a lot of research into this subject. And as with most findings, the answer depends on the individual or brand.

The Economist produced a study with authors, where bad reviews actually had a more positive effect on sales, over a short time frame. But this only happened in cases where the author themselves were lesser known.

The same study points to Toyota. When news arose of their cars speeding out of control, a $2Bn problem quickly followed, involving recalls, fines and plummeting sales.

Toyota’s bad publicity was potentially life threatening, and they definitely fit the profile of ‘well known brand.’ But other companies have survived in the midst of bad PR.

Some have even flourished.

Like who saw a 300% rise in request for information about Kazakhstan following the movie release of Borat.

So should you judge any bad publicity depending on how well known you are?


But there’s further thinking to be done before publishing a risqué video online.

Don’t be small fry

Last year, KFC promoted, liked and retweeted a few random posts slating their fries.

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Because in doing so, they directly promoted their business whilst polarising an audience. And in doing so, they created chatter. Independent conversations and vehement views were put forward on a subject as trivial as fries.

Making fun of themselves on social media created ‘noise’ for KFC. But it did so about a secondary area of their business.

You know how difficult it is to change fries at KFC? Not very difficult at all.

In fact, they’ve already changed their recipe in the UK a few times. So there’s reasonable evidence to suggest, they were already planning on changing them, and this was the promo.

But you know what? No one’s going to KFC for the fries.

They go for the chicken.

So if you want to ‘do a KFC’ and throw shade at your own business, you can do. But only if you can judge the response and attack an area of the business you’re aware isn’t the best it can be. You should only welcome bad PR on these terms.

Keep abreast of your naysayers

Most major companies have done similar things to KFC in the past. Whether you take Coca-Cola’s advertising efforts against smear campaign from Pepsi, or McDonald’s where they debunk the myths of ‘things which go into chicken nuggets’.

Coke Pepsi Ad

It’s easy for brands to ignore the negative sides of hearsay and ill-tempered press. You can bury your head in the sand and hope it goes away.

But far better is to own it.

Does that mean you should stand by posts online which damage your brand?

It depends.

If your brand is key to doing business, and it will be in recruitment, perhaps take a moment to think about any perceived negatives a share will have. Work out whether you can change your fries.

If you can, then accept the criticism. Respond to the Glassdoor reviews. Reply to comments on LinkedIn. Address the criticism on Twitter.

If you can’t however, it’s highly likely the bad PR will damage your reputation, and with it your business.

Recruitment publicity

As if to prove the myth of ‘any publicity being good publicity’, BP’s struggle against negative press from an oil spill disaster was well documented.

The general public boycotted petrol stations and even crafted halloween costumes in their honour.

Sure there’s an element of getting your name out there if you’re a complete unknown in the game.

But it’s fair to say, you’re probably not unknown. You pride yourselves on being vocal, and virtuous with your network. On fighting the good fights. Sticking up for your candidates. Representing your clients. And being a career partner for both.

So, is there such a thing as bad publicity? Definitely!

Be cautious of your brand, protect your image and you’ll safeguard your future.

Sure, you can tread the line occasionally.

And when sharing from an individual perspective online, you can be more candid. But be wary of bad publicity as the rise of the personal brand continues to surge forward. It’s easy to ramp thing up to increase engagement.

Harder, is digging yourself out of a hole, when your audience has already made their mind up.

Now, this.