Negative Publicity: Ways to handle it

Negative
Publicity: Ways to handle it
Dr.
S. Shyam Prasad
Introduction
Before we start our discussion on negative
publicity or publicity for that matter, it would be good idea to have
background understanding of marketing communications of which publicity is a
part. Any marketing text will define that marketing communications are the
means by which firms attempt to inform, persuade and remind customers –
directly or indirectly – about the products and brands they sell. In this era
of technology, the communications environment has changed. Advertising continues
to be a major element of marketing communications; but it is neither the only
one nor the most important element of communications. The communications mix
consists of eight elements namely: 1. Advertising, 2. Sales promotion, 3.
Events and experiences, 4. Public relations and publicity, 5. Online and social
media marketing, 6. Mobile marketing, 7. Direct and database marketing and 8.
Personal selling (Kotler).
  
Publicity
The dictionary meaning of publicity
is – notice or attention given to someone or something by the media. From the
marketing point of view, publicity is the act of conveying information to the
general public through the media in a way other than advertising. The
information published could be news, information about a product, etc. A major
difference between advertising and publicity is that while you pay for advertising,
you pray for publicity. Publicity can be achieved through print
media (newspapers, journals, magazines, etc.); television; radio; email;
websites; and social media like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Some other means such
as public speech, seminars, and workshops are also employed as tools of
publicity. The only purpose of publicity is to disseminate the certain
information across to as many people as possible within the shortest time
period. Publicity can be broadly classified in this digital era as offline
publicity and online publicity. Online publicity is done using any
internet-based platform and all others are offline publicity.
It is common knowledge that
whenever a major event happens it receives wide publicity. Similarly, when
something notable happens or done by a company, it receives publicity. When the
notable event is pleasant or good it receives wide publicity, makes the company
feel proud and the chances are that it would attract new customers. In the
unfortunate case of the notable event being unpleasant or not all that good
one, the company receives a wider publicity generally termed as negative
publicity. Negative because it damages the company’s public image and leaves
company in a bad feeling. The chances are that the company may lose its
customers.
Negative
Publicity
We may divide negative publicity
into three types: 1. Self-inflicted, 2. Competitors inflicted and 3.
Customer/Public inflicted.
Self-inflicted: Many
times a company might take certain decision to change something about the
company and the public may react negatively. It could be changing the label of
a product. The company may have done it with good intention but public may have
detected something that is not to their liking and the next thing would be the
social media buzzing with customers opinion. 
Competitors inflicted:
 Many times competitors like to fish in
troubled waters. They may take advantage of the customers’ complaints and look
for ways to work those complaints to their next marketing campaign.
Customer/Public inflicted:
Sometimes customers will make a false claim because they’re unhappy about
something with business.
The bottom-line is that any
negative reports, reviews, or statements about your company can be considered negative
publicity.
Handling
negative publicity
Initially one might feel helpless
when the bad publicity surfaces. However, things can be turned around and
managed the situation with some enterprise. The first thing to remember in such
circumstances is not to panic. If one panics, one may do desperate things that
may not augur well for countering the negative publicity.  
The following five tips (taken from
internet) to handle negative publicity can be useful:
1. Confront the source
You have to find the source of the
problem in order to deal with it, says Mark Grimm, president of Mark Grimm
Communications, a public relations company in Albany, NY. “Go to the
source and challenge the fact that what they are spreading isn’t true,” he
says. “Sometimes it’s harmless and they’ll apologize—the key is to state
something positive that answers the negative publicity.” For example, the
negative publicity created by Cyrus Mistry after his termination was handled by
countering his each allegations.
2.
Make amends
If there is genuinely something
wrong, correct it. Going above and beyond to fix the problem makes people feel
like your company cares about them, says Lea Richards, owner and founder of Pig
of the Month BBQ, a nationwide mail order barbeque company based in Dayton,
Ohio. For example, when the new product launch in 1985 was a disaster for coke,
with huge backlash for the new formula, coke made amends by bring back the old
formula.
3.
Acknowledge mistakes
If the negative publicity is due to
some fault at our end, own it up rather than trying to cover up the mistake. If
the company acknowledges its mistake, people will appreciate the bold step and
may trust the company’s word. “That way they understand that if there is ever
[another] problem, it won’t be a problem to them,” Richards says.
4.
Enlist supporters to speak on your behalf
The
satisfied customers are the biggest asset of any company and they have huge
potential if approached appropriately. In dealing with
negative publicity, ones loyal customers are often the best advocates.
“Train
[your satisfied customers] on what to say, because you want them to be specific
and positive,” Grimm says.

As in the case of termination of Cyrus Mistry, Tatas enlisted support of other
board members to speak in favour of the company.
5. Seek legal advice
If
it’s serious, one may need an attorney or a team from business to work
consistently on managing it. Again, in the case of Cyrus Mistry, Tatas are
seeking legal advice.
One
can defend oneself through a press release or interview if it’s something
that’s attracted major media attention, or simply take to blog or forum if the
publicity seems to be centered on social media sites. Once the flames are out,
it’s time to rebuild the image and get the public to forget.
Conclusion
The idea that no
publicity can be more harmful is open to debate.  For someone seeking notoriety and a somewhat
scandalous reputation, like Marie Lloyd and Mae West in
days gone by, or Paris Hilton in our era, that may be true(internet). Some film
stars would rather have negative publicity by doing or saying controversial
thing rather than having no publicity at all. May be they are afraid that ‘out
of sight (news) out of mind’ may come true or they are the votaries of ‘There’s no such thing as bad publicity’.
This statement is often associated with Phineas T. Barnum, the 19th century
American showman and circus owner. The proverbial expression began to be used
in the early 20th century. Oscar Wilde expressing a similar thought behind the
proverb said: The only thing worse than
being talked about is not being talked about.
Probably
the most celebrated adapter of the expression was another great wit from the
Dublin literary scene, the Irish Republican Brendan Behan in whose opinion
that: There’s no such thing as bad
publicity except your own obituary.

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