Gini Dietrich

Is All Publicity Good?

By: Gini Dietrich | August 13, 2012 | 

Last November, an Entrepreneur article asked, “Is Any Publicity Good Publicity?

Of course, it goes along with the thinking that, as long as people are talking about you, you don’t care if they love you or hate you.

But is that the best thing for a business? Do people buy from people they don’t like, but do so just because they’re in the news?

I’m here to stop that thinking.

Not all publicity is good for you, for your business, or for your community.

Sure, not all news will be good news. Even the best companies will have some negative things written about them, but it’s in how you respond that makes, or breaks, the game.

A Bad Publicity Example

Let’s take Susan G. Komen as an example.

In January of this year, Komen decided to no longer fund Planned Parenthood, which created a huge PR mess, not because of the decision, but because the communication around it happened.

When the organization came under fire, Nancy Brinker, the organization’s founder and CEO, fumbled her way through interviews. Her messaging was never consistent and it was clear they hadn’t thought through any of the implications of removing funding from an organization that provides free breast cancer screening to the underserved population.

They ended up reversing the decision, but the damage was already done. Top executives began to leave, volunteers turn their attention elsewhere, and donors sent their money directly to Planned Parenthood. And, just last week, Brinker and the organization’s president (along with two additional board members) stepped down.

If you’re of the “any publicity is good publicity” mind, it makes sense to consider what can happen to an organization when negative news isn’t handled correctly … as happened to SGK.

A Good Publicity Example

But it doesn’t have to be negative news that can hurt an organization.

In May of 2009, Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises across the country struggled to keep up with the four million new customers after Oprah Winfrey told viewers of her show they could get a free meal by printing out an Internet coupon.

People took to the web to print out the coupon and head to their closest KFC.

But the problem? The Oprah Effect created such a demand the website couldn’t keep up and many people were met with error messages or a timed out site.

If that wasn’t enough, the giveaway happened closest to one of the restaurant’s busiest days – Mother’s Day – and the franchisees were responsible for the costs associated with the free grilled chicken meals, cutting into their profits and leaving them scrambling to order product they didn’t have in store.

When is Publicity Right?

In the Oprah/KFC example, the publicity would have been perfect, had the restaurant anticipated the response, both by increasing their server storage space for a few days and alerting their franchisees of the promotion and what it could mean in terms of masses of new customers coming through their doors in a few short days.

There is more to “getting your name in ink” than just a story running. Have you considered the message you’d like delivered? Is your organization ready if critics don’t agree with the message you’re communicating? Are you ready if your media relations push is so successful, it has the potential to shut you down?

Publicity, when done well, is fantastic for brand awareness and credibility, if timed correctly and if you work with journalists, bloggers, and influencers that are perfect for your brand. But if you believe all publicity is good and you just shoot “news” to everyone on a list, be prepared for backlash.

A version of this first appeared at ASI, a sports and entertainment branding agency.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Not only do we need to take a look at what can happen when the negative news isn’t handled well, we have to look at the nature of the negative news. With the Internet, we (consumers) have so much information at our fingertips, and it stays there. It doesn’t go away. Pre-Internet it was much easier for a PR to offer the counsel of “It will blow over” and most likely be right. With the Internet, it might blow over…until the next time someone digs it up. And that even includes false information, like that which is contained in many urban myths. While the Internet and social can be rather self-correcting, the bad info often stays out there, and if the wrong people find it, they might believe it.

    •  @KenMueller And it’s not just negative news…it’s good news too that isn’t handled properly. I can think of 1,000 case studies where good news has hurt a company because social media has created a firestorm around it (Motrin Moms, Marie Callendar’s, Gap logo). 

      •  @ginidietrich We tend to give an undue amount of credence to certain issues because they are perceived as hot-button issues on social, and either we see everything (or nothing) based on our connections. This is one reason why I like having a large base of connections that run the gamut.  And it will drive me nuts during the next few months as we head up to the election.

        •  @KenMueller I’ve been thinking about that a lot with this whole NBC/Olympics fiasco. I have a blog post in the works that shows how many people watch TV that are NOT on the social networks. If those numbers are correct, NBC shouldn’t care with the very vocal minority are saying on social.

        •  @ginidietrich I’m interested in that as well, especially since the latest number that’s being thrown around is that 93% of American adults are on Facebook. The other thing I’ve been thinking about is that if I use Facebook as a guide, we are incredibly polarized nation. Seeing lots of hate and invective from those of my friends who represent the right and the left. but if I think about it, it might just be a handful of vocal friends on either side. And when I go offline, and out and about, I’m not seeing that polarization. Maybe most people just don’t care! I don’t know.

        • Welcome to the Ken and Gini show… Staring @KenMueller and @ginidietrich 🙂 Good morning pals, you both get scoring points for this event!

        •  @SociallyGenius  @KenMueller  @ginidietrich Where the heck is everyone else?? Are we dealing with a bad case of the Mondays??

        •  @KenMueller  @SociallyGenius  @ginidietrich Hi, I’m here! I typically lurk, though, so I don’t know if I count. 😉

        • Hi there Nate, thanks for making your presence known! Now your vote counts lol. @NateStPierre I was just giving them a hard time 😉 @KenMueller @ginidietrich

        •  @NateStPierre  @SociallyGenius  @ginidietrich Of course you count. 

  • So are you saying the preparation and reaction to the publicity is, in many cases, more important than the news itself? I’m picking up what you’re laying down, Gini.

  • magriebler

    We’re also learning about the disproportionate power of negative interactions, experiences and people. Have you heard of the five-to-one rule? There’s some interesting psychological research that suggests negative experiences leave a deeper, longer, stronger impression than good ones and that it takes five positive touch points to counteract one lousy one.
    So the problem isn’t so much with repeat customers, who have a backlog of good interactions to offset the bad. It is a real issue with potential new customers. If I never ate at KFC because I don’t like fried food, but decided to give them a try because of Oprah’s endorsement, I’m going to be left with — I can’t resist saying this — a bad taste in my mouth. And there’s no incentive for me to give them more chances to make it up to me. Why should I? KFC is not the only fast-food place on the planet.
    And as @lisagerber illustrated so nicely in her post last week, it’s not just what I experienced that counts. I’ll tell my story to my friends and family (offline and online) and will multiply those negative touch points countless times.

    •  @magriebler  Ba da dum! LOL!
      I feel a little bit badly for KFC in this example. It’s a very clear example of something happening at the corporate level that never was communicated to the franchisees. And they’re the ones who have to deal with the negative comments and stories.

      • magriebler

         @ginidietrich This is clear proof that you are a nicer person than I am. I hope those franchisees gave headquarters holy hell. And if this kind of breakdown in communication has happened more than once, then shame on them for staying in a toxic relationship. P.S. I hate fried chicken; can you tell?

  • alpinepr

    Great post, Gini. I recently had this experience with a client. We had told them that before we embark on PR for them – and later, when we secured a TV media placement – they needed to inform their internal audience (i.e., colleagues, referral sources) that a piece about their new business venture would air. They disregarded our advice. What resulted was that they caught a lot of flack and received nasty letters from one of their colleagues that was circulated to their industry group. Now they’re in a position of damage control from the blow-back. We hated to say “I told you so,” but that’s what happened. Oh, well. Now we’re hired for crisis management.

    •  @alpinepr  I wish companies would treat crisis management like insurance. If you have a plan and someone at the go, you typically never need it. It’s kind of like Murphy’s Law.

  • Pilar

    How timely! Someone I know recently had some bad publicity regarding a risque promotion of a product. He works for himself, but the company who makes/sells the product works with a PR agency. He discussed his promotion angle with the agency as he wanted their support, and they seemed excited with his approach (I wouldn’t have been). In the end, he received a lot of flack and they bowed out and said they had nothing to do with it. I understand their position, but seems as though they gave him some crappy advice.

    •  @Pilar Jeez Louise. I understand their position, too, but come on. Some ethics?

  • John_Trader1

    This is an interesting post Gini. I am reminded of the Alec Baldwin “Words with Friends” story where Zynga received a shot of unplanned publicity when he was kicked off a plane last year, right before their IPO. Granted, it may not have been what they wanted but it got people’s attention and indirectly I feel like it helped to boost their IPO price higher than what it may have been. 
    Quality, effective publicity seems to take careful planning and even though there can always be the unexpected, if you map out ahead of time what contingency strategies are in place to deal with the unexpected, it should be much easier to leverage or respond to.

    • alpinepr

       @John_Trader1 Great comment, John. I’m going to discuss crisis management in my next blog post, coming out this week. Check it out at If there’s room, I’d like to reference your comment.

      • John_Trader1

         @alpinepr Thank you, I will check it out and I’d be flattered if you referenced by comment. The price is only $1 million. 🙂

    •  @John_Trader1 Very good example! The interesting thing with that is it was during their quiet period so they could have been fined for publicity that close to the IPO. Those are the kinds of things experienced communications pros will help companies think through.

      • John_Trader1

         @ginidietrich That’s a good point – I forgot about the “quiet period.” I know some of my co-workers who can really benefit from a quiet period.

  • susancellura

    I know some young communicators out there who could learn a thing or two from this post. I worry that they are so bent on getting “kudos” for an ad or a news release, they don’t look at the big picture. And there are a lot of “what ifs” that need to be answered before any type of launch or communication goes forward.

    •  @susancellura Unfortunately not just young professionals. There are plenty of experienced pros who don’t answer the what ifs, too.

  • The KFC story reminds me of a story I heard several years ago. There was a company that manufactured “widgets” that had been trying to catch a break. Someone on their team had some sort of connection to one of the big warehouse stores and convinced them to place an order.
    Initially it was great and everyone was ecstatic but it bit them in the butt because they couldn’t meet  the demand for product and instead of it being a homerun it caused serious damage to their reputation.

    •  @thejoshuawilner That happens a lot. You sell something big, thinking it’s going to be your break, but don’t think through how you’re going to pay for it before you get paid. It’s a big mistake lots of entrepreneurs make.

  • FocusedWords

    Great post and even greater conversation!!  It mystifies me how companies that have people dedicated to generating news about their brand can make such obvious missteps.  I often wonder if they get into the “We are so big nothing can hurt us” mode.

    •  @FocusedWords I don’t know if it’s that or they just don’t think. I know with Komen, for instance, they had a crisis firm on retainer, but never told them they were planning to make the Planned Parenthood announcement. Had they done that, I’m 99.9% certain it would have been handled differently. 

      • FocusedWords

         @ginidietrich Isn’t it amazing what some companies will pay for and then not use?!?  Did the crisis firm get to say “I told you soNow if I can only figure out how to get a gig like that.  

      • alpinepr

         @ginidietrich  @FocusedWords  I find that unbelievable – you have a crisis firm on retainer, but don’t tell them about a controversial move. How do we educate clients that they need to include us in their discussions about such things? I think many clients just don’t understand what we do and how we can help them head off crises before they erupt. I am finding that some cos., especially smaller ones that haven’t used a PR firm, need a primer on what PR is and how it can be used to be help promote and protect their brand.

  • We had a 2 for 1 day at our agency; buy one policy, get the second one free. The response was so overwhelming, we ran out of policies by 11:30 am. The bad news was, we had to turn people away; the good news was, we got the afternoon off because we didn’t have anything left to sell. Boy, was that one lesson learned. 
    What is the solution? Hindsight is much clearer than foresight, so it can be hard to anticipate what kind of ‘reaction’ your event will cause, right? Do you think once the damage is done it’s best to have a clear, concise message to convey…..and as soon as possible?
    Ask Audi about bad publicity surrounding the sudden acceleration that could occur in some of their cars; it about took them under. How do you handle something like that? 

    •  @bdorman264 Two for one policies!? How’d I miss out on this? I thought I was on the friends and family list?
      As to your Audi question…you can recover from things like that if you handle the situation professionally and with remorse. Things happen. Accidents happen. The make or break is in how you handle. I’m reminded of the cruise ship that sank last year. The CEO of the company didn’t have the common courtesy to go say he was sorry. That’s just bad form.

      •  @ginidietrich @billdorman You can’t necessarily control it, but you can be smarter in the first place by thinking through what is being said, by training everyone about what has the potential to cause damage, then train again and again and again, and then ten times more.  
        Building brand equity is huge in these situations.  If a brand (and sorry, just about everyone and everything is a brand) has spent time and resources building that brand equity among its friends and followers, than these episodes will be softened by the padding that is otherwise known as pre-existing support and admiration so the landing is much easier.  
        Picture it like a beach ball at a baseball game. Those who already know, like, trust and even adore you will keep you up in the air while you solve the crisis through apologies, comments, good deeds, remorse and whatever else needs to be done to make it right, or as right as possible.  You’ll get dropped by someone every once in a while, but then someone who wants to support you will pick you up, and put you back in the game.
        Uh-oh, I think I just wrote the start of a blog post…gotta go! 😉

  • mdirocco

    @ginidietrich I always cringe when I hear people say “all publicity is good publicity”.

    • ginidietrich

      @mdirocco The all publicity is good thing makes me nuts too!!

  • At the gym and came late. Some.of your most educational posts have the fewest comments. Not sure why?

    Great examples here ms gini. The kfc is similar to many groupon fiascos. And very’silo’ oriented. The komen one was pure incompetence. You exist to.fight breast cancer so you defund the biggest screener because of dumbass religious grounds of the ceo? When the fiundation is secular then fail to have a story or plan? Good luck with that.

    So livefyre shows many spelljng errors but on my little droid screen i am not responsible! Lol

    •  @HowieG It’s like when I blog about metrics. Huge traffic, but crickets in the comments.

      •  @ginidietrich Fewer comments, perhaps, but the informational/instructional stuff is much appreciated. 

        •  @barrettrossie  @ginidietrich tomorrow it should be a Kenny G post. That will rock the comments. @bdorman264 and @KenMueller are big fans.

  • rdopping

    Hey Everyone! I am giving away free 🙂 with every comment on but only for a short time though. After that, you have to work very, very hard for the 🙂 so you better get on it right away. Like now!
    Watch THAT go viral.
    Here’s a serious question for you PR folks.
    How the heck can you contain {negative} or any event when it happens nowadays? I would think it’s almost impossible. You can apologize, do right, offer solutions, whatever. There will always be the Wally’s that take pleasure in ripping you a new one just for the fun of it or to get their own publicity out of a mishap. Do we now live in a world where any slight miscue is open season? It seems like it.
    Remember free 🙂 and Oprah loves 🙂 you know. She told me personally when she was in Toronto in June. Honest……..

    •  @rdopping Ralph. That seriously made me laugh out loud! 
      You can’t control the negative. That’s the thing most companies are missing today. They think they can control the messaging … and they can’t. But you can apologize and make it good. That’s what matters. In the case of Oprah/KFC, though, that could have been avoided had they been prepared – and through through – the entire program.

      • jasondyk

         @ginidietrich @rdopping I would agree that you can’t contain the negative, but you can certainly mitigate the consequences that come along with it, in my opinion.  I think it depends on a few things, Timing of response, tone of response, and what you meant to your community before the negative occurrence happened. They can’t control the message, but the can certainly control how they respond and engage with folks

        • rdopping

           @jasondyk  @ginidietrich Exactly. Thanks Jason. Cheers!

        • jasondyk

           @rdopping  @ginidietrich It intrigued my interest enough to write a post in response 🙂 Would love to hear your feedback

  • Creating buzz, as they say, right? But, how much does character matter? Look at the politicians that have faltered and been disgraced. Look at the endorsements that Tiger lost. And if the “mistake” is big enough, entire corporations can crumble. Granted, there’s more going on there than just bad publicity but the underlying message is similar.
    Then you think about how sometimes people just don’t care as Ken Mueller alluded to. This is a slightly different issue but think about Roger Clemens and Barrie Bonds and the others that were likely involved in illegal enhancements. I can’t count how many “voters” said they just don’t care, they want to see the home runs … they want to see the wins!
    Ahh, but I digress?

    •  @Carmelo You and I could write an entirely different blog post about the things you raise here! Same thing with Michael Vick… 

      •  @ginidietrich Ha! Yes, an entirely different blog post. I veered right off topic there at the end. But, isn’t that what good writing does, Gini? You open so many doors through which you lead people to your point!
        Sometimes we just get lost behind door number 3!
        (I’m new here and incredibly impressed with your writing, thinking, and especially the way you interact with us! wow.)

        •  @Carmelo I think getting lost behind door number three is a great thing…it gave me a new blog post idea. And maybe you’d like to guest post for us about it?

        •  @ginidietrich Hey, what a great idea! I’ll put some thoughts together. Let me know if you have a direction in mind. Or, I can just run with it. I’m flexible, Gini.

        •  @Carmelo Awesome! I’m CCing our chief content officer, @Lisa Gerber , here. She’ll make sure you have our guidelines. From my perspective, I’d love you to expand on your initial comment.

  • You’re right.  Of course not all publicity is good. For heaven’s sake, the people who have perpetuated that myth are probably the ones who think that being on Maury and Judge Judy is good for your brand, too.  What one has spent years cultivating can be brought down in a nano-second if bad publicity blows up and takes over.  Not being prepared for it is not wise.  Not being wise enough to constantly think about how to avoid it by using our heads to think through what we are saying and doing is not good business.  Good post ginidietrich !

    •  @NancyMyrland I think there was a baseball player who said something along the lines of, “I don’t care if they love me or hate me, as long as they know my name when I come up to bat.” There are plenty of people in this world who believe that.

      •  @ginidietrich That’s pretty pathetic, isn’t it?  Who cares what your name is if they can’t stand you? That’s narcissism, not good business.

  • ginidietrich

    @awolk Thanks Alan!

  • CandiceStone

    Another example is – they got some bad PR around a theft from one of their hosts but ultimately it was well handled and resulted in an amazing growth ramp.  When we host guests we always ask where they heard about airbnb and it has been interesting with everything from CNN to blogs about startups.

    •  @CandiceStone VERY good example! I’d forgotten about them when I wrote the  blog post, but you’re totally right.

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  • CdnCCPR

    @PublicityGuru Definitely NO!

  • YonzeeMJ

    @PublicityGuru it depends

  • SandraFernandez

    I used to say this a lot, when I was very very new to public relations. Time and experience have taught me the error of that believe. Even publicity that’s supposed to be good can end up being bad for you — ie, campaigns or messaging that go wrong. This is a bad myth we need to put to rest.

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