Is bad publicity better than none at all? Many people are convinced that it is better to be in the spotlight than not at all. But there is a fine line between gaining notoriety and being noticed — and no publicist wants their client to be known for bad PR.

The truth is, society scrutinises brands critically; every move they make is judged. A positive encounter will encourage customer relationships, but bad publicity will leave customers hesitant to interact after they lose trust in a business, ultimately reducing sales and affecting brand equity. Negative PR is costly to correct and difficult to forget.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Good publicity is sincere, meaningful and well-timed. It is seen whenever your brand or client is mentioned in the media and the public forms a positive opinion on it. Beneficial news may not be as fascinating or entertaining as the scandalous stories, but having a healthy brand image creates loyal customers and strong business relationships.

Good publicity can, for instance, be generated by posting on social media how a brand has aided underprivileged community members.

Bad publicity is toxic because it can ruin the reputation you have worked so long and hard on building. It is unplanned, reactionary and without a strategy.

What makes it so dangerous is that one bad piece of PR that’s inconsistent with your brand image can cause consumers to question your entire legacy. Negative publicity is unavoidable in some cases but it is important to be wary of it and avoid it where possible.

Bad publicity can occur when a product needs to be recalled because it was discovered that during manufacturing the wrong ingredient was added.

Dealing with bad PR you can control

When it comes to negative publicity, you need to be careful that you don’t cause it yourself. For example, not paying attention to the message being conveyed and accidentally presenting something that can be deemed as offensive can leave brands with more than just egg on their face. Sometimes, creating controversy or PR stunts can be tempting, but it is then necessary to remember that there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Here are four types of negative PR that you can prevent:

Shock value PR
Controversial opinions grab attention, but ultimately, they will only remember the negative point of view of a company. For example, a clothing brand can issue a controversial statement on their social media that says their use of real animal products such as leather makes them superior to other brands with a photo of processed animal hides, which can outrage viewers. Aiming for this effect in order to gain attention in the media is what shock value PR is.

Putting others down to make yourself look good
This happens a lot in politics where one party would point out the faults or mistakes of another to make themselves look good. It also happens between many celebs who would take hits at each other to make themselves look good. Take, for instance, the ongoing feud between radio host Anele Mdoda and Kelly Roland after she tweeted that Kelly ‘only looks amazing with make-up’.

PR stunts to gain attention
Messages communicated in this form of publicity can easily be misunderstood and backfire completely. Once the audience realises it was just a trick to get their attention, they can feel misled and lose trust in your client.

For example, in 2019, Nomuzi Mabena faced backlash after she was part of a fake car crash for a drunk driving awareness campaign. Members of the public thought it was distasteful to play with fan’s emotions and their concerns for the star, especially since there was a 14-hour silence wherein no updates on the matter was released.

Offensive or derogatory PR content
Professionals in the industry have the responsibility to make sure the messages they produce are not offensive or derogatory. In 2020, for example, a racist advert was shown on the Clicks website comparing hair types of black and white women, showing the black woman’s hair as being ‘dry and damaged’ and the caucasian hairstyle of the other woman as ‘normal’. This sparked a massive outcry in South Africa.

Facing negative PR that is out of your control

Every once in a while, you might encounter press that puts your client in a bad light. It is then your duty to handle it in a way that doesn’t cause further harm, or better yet, improves the situation. With that said, there are two types of negative PR that you cannot avoid: Bad reviews and PR scandals.

Bad reviews
These have a strong impact on consumers’ perception of a product or brand. But the situation can be turned into an opportunity for future positive publicity. How, you might ask? For example, have a positive way of dealing with a social media post from a person who experienced bad service when purchasing from your client.

Turn the bad review into a good experience by taking the initiative and apologising for what happened, investigating the matter and responding with proof that your client is actively working on making sure a situation like that does not happen again.

PR scandals
When it comes to scandals, prevention is always better than cure. Should you be faced with gossip, it will most likely place your client in a bad light. If that’s the case, do not rush to respond; instead, listen to what the media is saying and use that information to carefully craft your message and respond appropriately.

Also, remember to honestly admit to any mistakes that have been made and share your concern towards anyone who has been affected by the situation.

Image is everything, and when it comes to publicity, your aim should be to always keep a strong positive image. Bad publicity can take the power out of your hands, but you can take control back by choosing how you deal with — or prevent — negative publicity.

Have you encountered bad PR that was positive? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Negative PR is inevitable, but don’t let that get you down. Read our tips on Dealing with bad news like a pro.
*Image courtesy of Canva