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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A New Look at an Old Adage

The old adage says that any publicity, even if it’s bad, is better than no publicity. As adages go, this one has been proven wrong enough times to merit relegation to the dustbin of sound bites. (BP and Tiger Woods anyone?)

But there's a corollary here worth investigating, as marketing researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business and Stanford University's Graduate School of Business have done this Fall: just because ANY publicity isn't necessarily better than no publicity doesn’t mean SOME bad publicity can't actually benefit an organization, product or brand. Their task – which has implications for crisis communications and reputation management decision-making – was to determine how and why that happens. (See: http://www.stanford.edu/~asorense/papers/Negative_Publicity.pdf).

Among their findings: in some circumstances negative publicity may have positive effects if it increases product awareness. As they report, though it has not focused on negative publicity directly, more quantitative research suggests that media or interpersonal communication can influence whether consumers are informed about a particular product. Consumers have finite attention, they say, and thus when a movie debuts, a book is released, a brand is re-positioned, or a product is launched, many consumers may not be aware of it. Further, the sheer multitude of product offerings can mean that many consumers will never learn about a given offering.

In other words, the researchers establish that the very newsworthiness of negative publicity can "re-inform" the public about a brand or product they may not have been paying attention to.

At CommCore, in such a case we would argue that the inherent communications challenge is to ensure the following before deciding how to view the problem:

• That the nature and scope of the negative publicity is properly assessed.

• That the company's reputation in the marketplace is strong enough that it can be banked on.

• That the root of the bad publicity can be publicly addressed and acknowledged in a manner that shows genuine concern.

• That a publicly-promoted plan can be implemented to ensure that any problems are fixed transparently.

What has your experience been with bad publicity? Can you cite examples where proper assessment and a strong reputation has allowed a brand or product to benefit from the problem?

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