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Negative Publicity: Ways to handle it

Negative Publicity: Ways to handle it
Dr. S. Shyam Prasad
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).
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 withnegative 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.
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 pu
blicity 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.