I love the quote "There’s no such thing as bad publicity", or even better: "any publicity is good publicity". I wonder if people that utter such stupidity are booking a holiday to Kenya anytime soon? Or buying Mattel toys for their children? Or about to open an account with Northern Rock?
Of course there’s bad publicity, why else would crisis media management exist? However, let’s make some distinctions, there’s ‘good’ bad publicity, ‘bad’ bad publicity and, my personal favourite, corporate stupidity.
First let’s tackle corporate stupidity. Corporate stupidity is brilliant, I love corporate stupidity. It makes me feel clever not to work for a cumbersome organisation that sacrifices commons sense for efficiency. It’s certainly the most fun to research. Good examples of corporate stupidity include strictly obeying procedures in the face of common sense, putting a corpse next to a gold-level customer or sending a dossier on a journalist, to the journalist.
Generally, isolated incidents of corporate stupidity wont change your buying habits too much. Instead, it’s when these fissures of corporate stupidity become incremental, that the damage begins. Dissatisfaction with service is a typical one. It begins with one or two customers then snowballs.
Next there is this very slippery slope of ‘good’ bad publicity, the sort of publicity which prompts this post’s opening sentence. Celebrities fall into this category. Jade Goody, Paris Hilton and even Britney Spears would be long forgotten by now if they didn’t cause so many controversies. For these celebrities bad publicity is the raison d’etre , they need it, and cultivate it – or rather, their agents probably do.
In the murkier world of business, ‘good’ bad publicity is remarkable luck. Sales in Turkey Twizzlers rose during the public backlash against the brand. Even more inexplicable is that Turkey Twizzlers are a food, an industry harmed more often by bad publicity than any other.
Finally, we get to ‘bad’ bad publicity. This is the dark stuff. The stuff that cause businesses to crumble in minutes (god bless 24hour news). This is why crisis media management (CMM) exists. When conflicts threaten tourism, in steps CMM. When customers run to withdraw savings, in steps CMM. When a national epidemic is suspected to have originated from your plant, in steps CMM. God bless it.
I guess it’s just a little too easy to berate someone for claiming any publicity is good publicity. Likewise it’s foolish to assume that every type of bad publicity needs strict CMM principles.
Most of the PR bloggersthat launched blogsas part of theirdegree courseslast year, didn’t keepthem updatedafter themodule ended. I don’t think you can force people to blog. People should want to blog, blogging should be something you get to do. Once you understand the benefits of blogging (Learning, Networking, Fun), it’s more difficult not to blog.
This blog gets me work. A mighty part of my freelance ambitions are dependent upon the drivel I extol here, and you deep-pocketed folk who read it. Every now and then someone will drop me an e-mail, often about something quite innocuous, sometimes those e-mail discussions become person to person meeting, sometimes those meetings turn into work opportunities. It’s an informal discussion based sales funnel.
Really though, blogging is like networking for people hate networking. It can be selling for people that are sick of playing the numbers and believe enough to forget the phone and find the keyboard – maybe even in their spare time. It’s a way of opening impregnable doors (and having some slammed permanently shut). It can be where an Account Executive can discuss a marketing campaign with a CEO or discuss PR angles with journalists.
I’ve always wanted a student out there to launch a blog with the target of getting a job at one company, say, Edelman. Imagine, a student launched a blog about trying to get a job at Edelman. Imagine regular posts the student could suggest PR/Marketing ideas for their clients, demonstrate their knowledge of the Tech/PR business and how he’s getting to know some of the staff who already work at the agency. Wouldn’t that be interesting? Would it work? I’ve no doubt it might get their attention at the very least.
Finding the time, and often ideas for content, can be a struggle. Yet between writing another blog post, and another job-application essay, I’ll pick the blog post every time. It pains me to hear of students who between University assignments, writing job applications and “living the lifestyle” can’t find the time to blog. Why not combine them? Why not blog about something you’ve just been taught at a lecture and get some broader opinions? Why not blog about careers and begin networking with people that might be able to help? Why not blog about the observations from the lifestyle? (Why do so few companies use MSN to speak to student customers?)
This medium isn’t perfect, every young PR blogger still going from a year ago has taken a backlash at some point. Stephen was criticised for creating a top 100 uk blogs list, Alex was attacked by fellow students, Chris Clarke was slated for commenting on Crayon, and I was doused in flames for this gem. It happens, it’s one of the best character-building moments you can experience (I met with TWL in London yesterday). You take the criticism, learn to handle it, and use the experience in the future.
The student blogging situation is pretty dire. It’s a pity that University’s haven’t tried giving blogging advice alongside their standard career advice. But I think it will improve. I suspect student PR bloggers are like snowflakes, the first few flakes might fade away, but in time they will stick.
What organisations out there would you downright, outright, refuse to work for? Which companies do you consider ‘too’ evil to ever associate yourself with?
Tobacco companies perhaps? They’re pretty evil aren’t they? Your job is to help people kill themselves. Maybe oil companies too? Your job is to pollute the planet and begin wars. How about McDonalds? Run fat boy run!
Beneath that then, are slightly greyer positions, companies perhaps not evil by industry but by past mistakes. How about PR for Labour? Or working for Microsoft? Maybe a company with an image problem, dying market and the brunt of constant criticism, cue Royal Mail.
So who should you work for? Well the brands everyone loves. Google? Yup! Innocent Drinks? Of course! Who wouldn’t want to work for those fruit-lovin’ (premium charging) critters? Maybe a charity too, Cancer Research UK perhaps? When you do a good job you save lives. Hell yeah!
I think to a great extent this is backwards. Working for a beloved brand is lazy, and possibly quite foolish. Your job is to keep doing a great job. What can you really accomplish at Google or Innocent Drinks? There’s only so much people can love smoothies. As for Cancer Research UK, if you don’t do an absolutely brilliant job, and give 150% every day, people might die. Can you live with that? Perhaps, it might be better to work for an evil empire?
Your friends and families might not approve, but what other job offers the opportunity to make such a difference? Imagine what you might be able to achieve as you progress up the level of the company. Take BP, where else is there such an opportunity to begin doing things right? As you progress up the ladder your opportunities to make a change grow.
Do you have any companies you would refuse to work for?
Back in my days as a young, wide-eyed, PR Account Executive I once made a pretty bad mistake with a pretty important client.
Our client was facing a lot of pressure from his board to be featured on TV. This pressure was naturally passed on to us, and I saw it as a great opportunity to prove myself with this new client of mine.
So I came up with a really decent, albeit slightly controversial angle, to get on television and pitched it to a few TV stations. I didn’t hear anything back for a few days. So, disappointed, I figured I might as well put it into a press release. I drafted it u p and sent the press release to the client for amends.
The client didn’t like it. They didn’t want to pursue this angle and take this approach. Which would have been fine, except the next day ITV (UK TV channel) decided they did like my pitch and followed it up. Only they didn’t contact me first, they went straight to our rather bewildered client.
All things considered, it didn’t do that much damage, and the relationship wasn’t ruined, but it easily could have been.
As a lesson, I put it down to ego. I wanted to contact the client with a message along the lines of “you wanted TV, I have TV”. Since then I’ve never pursued any angle without first checking with the client. Important lesson to learn I think, client over ego.
Anyone else feel like sharing their biggest PR mistake?
Here is a theoretical situation:
You’ve just written a press release. You send it to the client for their approval. They come back with a lot of changes, most of which are awful. The quote has clearly been written by a machine, they’ve inserted lots of acronyms, even more plenty of hyperbole and it just doesn’t read well. In short, it’s been butchered and no journalist in their right mind would touch it.
Naturally you contact your client to advise that in your experience journalists prefer more factual information with a specific angle in their niche, and they want quotes which wouldn’t sound out of place in a normal conversation. However, the client is insistent they want the one their legal department has already approved.
Typically, this isn’t really a major problem. Your client pays the bills and if they want a rubbish press release and disregard your advice, that’s their problem. So you begin distributing it via e-mail, newswires and free distribution sites. Any interested press can contact you on the details listed in the release.
So what happens when you’re applying for a job and your future employer does a quick Google check on you. Perhaps ["Your name" and "agency"] or [Your Name + Press Release] – everyone should try that last one. It’s easy to see where this is going. That press release could haunt you for every single job you apply for, ever. I think this could be a bigger problem than any drunken MySpace/Facebook photos.
Anyone have a good solution to this problem? Do you tell the client you’re not going to put your name on it? What would be the ramifications of that?
I think this could be a bigger problem than it is. I’m still worried by some of my earliest press releases.
A freelance writer once told me it’s common to look back on what you wrote five years ago and cringe, it’s a bigger problem if you don’t. I’m not so sure that’s true in the internet age.
As a time-limited internet user, would you spend a moment of your spare time reading a cornflakes blog? Really, what if the cornflakes blog was really, really, good and included lots of great recipes or the latest cornflakes news?
For your sake, I hope the answer is no. Except for the novelty of such a pointless blog existing, you wouldn’t read it. You wouldn’t read it because you don’t really love cornflakes, not like you love BMW, Microsoft or Hilton. However, the decision of which corporate blogs we read is less about love and more about involvement.
Cornflakes is about as boring as a breakfast cereal can get (Shredded Wheat not withstanding). It’s a low involvement, repeat, purchase (about time my Uni education started paying off). Even if they targeted their blog in the “breakfast space” and participated on breakfast blogs across the land (I’m not too sure how that’s possible without showing the obvious motive) – I still can’t see a cornflakes blog being much of a success. Would any consumers/readers really begin spreading the word that cornflakes are a great breakfast cereal?
So is this true for all low involvement purchases? Should low-involvement products not have blogs?
With the exception of short-term or promotional blogs, which I believe will become more popular, I haven’t seen anything that’s convinced me that low-involvement products should have a blog, at least not one for consumers. Which is where I think the biggest gap in the market is.
Cornflakes can certainly have a blog, but perhaps one targeted more at suppliers, partners, staff and other stakeholders to whom the cereal represents a significant concern. Wouldn’t a cornflakes blog consisting of shipping, manufacturing, staffing, marketing news be a better option?
But, we live in the land o’ Long Tail don’t we? If you blog it they will come. I daresay that there are some cornflake devotees out there, 6am in the morning, bowl of cornflakes in one hand, mouse in the other, trying to find the latest news about their favourite processed corn. Prevalent theory suggests that these are the people you need to reach, the ones that will spread the good word and fight your good fight.
Is someone telling you to change your breakfast cereal to a very familiar brand that you’ve already tried really going to change your ways – especially your sacred breakfast routine. It’s just plain unrealistic. Cornflakes is one of many examples. Your local newsagent shouldn’t have a blog, nor should the manufacturers of your water taps, but the plumber who fitted them probably should.
I was originally going to use the Starbucks debate as the example, but I think they dodge the pitfalls of this logic by selling the ‘Third Space’ more than they do coffee, and the ‘Third Space’ is something that consumers are likely to have more of an interest in.
A few concluding thoughts to this ramble then:
- Most low-involvement products should focus on blogging for stakeholders other than their consumers, especially those with familiar brands with little new to say.
- If companies selling low-involvement products really do want to blog, perhaps they should first consider a short-term promotional blog.
- Is a readership really going to make a difference to your company?
I’m sure all my feed-readers enjoyed that misplaced post. Sadly these are the problems you encounter when you mix your pages with posts. The problem is feeds use your first post and, as far as I’m aware, you can’t change a feed once you’ve posted.
Anyhow, Sally sends word that she’s launched a Response Source-ish blog. Basically, her and fellow journo chums will send out requests for relevant cases on a media requests blog.
She’s also keen to let it be known her and five fellow journalists are presenting at the PRNewswire event next Wednesday. Tickets are still available. More importantly, not one of the 300 PRs attending the PR Newswire event next week have invited her and fellow journalists for a beer afterwards. Especially since the beers are on the journalists for once*.
Personally, I’ve always thought that Response Source would work better if journalists each had their own blog asking for requests, which PRs could subscribe to through RSS feeds. Well, not for Daryl Wilcox obviously. Give the Getting Ink Journos blog a read
* might not be true
In short, plucky 19-year-old, Max Gogarty is writing a blog about his travels to India and Thailand. The introduction casually notes that he writes scripts for Skins, which is interesting. As a stand alone blog post, the 450 comments agree it’s rather rubbish and well below the quality of the Guardian’s other travel writers. Naturally then, angry readers did a little digging and discovered that Max is the son of Paul Gogarty, a regular contributor to Guardian Travel.
But they have taken the wrong track. Yes, the "Who’s your daddy?" debate is getting the most attention after the Conway scandal, but what many missed is that the URL ends with Skins_blog.html. But really, his blog post is far too tedious, and Max far too similar to a Skins’ character, to exist (I’m not denying Max himself exists, just his online persona).
I really hate these sorts of marketing ideas. Any idea based upon deceiving people is a bad one. Worse, it makes all marketers look bad. I didn’t like these mysterious stones, nor Lonelygirl15 for this very same reason. No matter how much attention you get, when you lie to a lot of people (or even just 1), they’re going to be peeved. And the Guardian readers are furious.
The other problem with this campaign is that it’s awful. Really, why choose the Guardian instead of setting up a blog? With promotion from the Skins MySpace page this could have easily got a lot of attention. How about "Max goes to discover the India’s Skins"? And what were the Guardian thinking? Did they really let let such a promotion slide as ‘content’?
Surely the best Guerrilla marketing works when a company can deliver a great message, to the right audience in a refreshing way?
Update: A mysterious contributor points to today’s editor’s response.
"No one snuck Max through the backdoor. I called him purely on the strength of his track record. On the back of his writing at his comprehensive school, he was invited on to a young writers’ group at the Royal Court theatre, and since then he has worked as an occasional writer on the TV series Skins. I think that’s pretty impressive for a 19-year-old.
I can also see why you might think this was a promo for Skins. It says skins_blog in the url. This was put in as a working title, and we forgot to change it. My fault. No one from Skins approached me in order to get a bit of free publicity for the show."
I hope, for the Guardian’s sake, that’s the truth. It still hasn’t stopped the angry comments.
I would love to believe that a mass community of people impulsively got together to bring back the Wispa Bar. Then Cadbury’s spotted this demand, hired a PR agency, and relaunched it. But I’m becoming rather cynical in my Autumn years and can’t help suspecting that the whole campaign was a rather magnificent work of PR. Others have had their suspicions, though Borkowski claims it’s 100% genuine.
So, here’s a new Wispa story. A student finds a 4 year old Wispa Bar down the back of the sofa and auctions it on eBay (where she notes she remarkably has 2). Last I checked the auction had reached over £265.
Did Borkowski, or someone else spot this eBay sell through great monitoring of the online scene and then draw attention to it? Or has is both the story and bar purely manufacturer for hungry media?
Anyone got any opinions on this one?
What if over 150,000 people wanted to buy your product on May 15? Better, what if they planned to buy as much of your product on May 15 as shops were able to stock?
Brilliant eh? And the 150,000 figure is likely to double by May 15.
How would you take advantage of it? How would you take advantage of a HUGE online community forming around your product? How would you get involved with the thousands of people asking what to do with your product after they had bought it? How would you take advantage of people sharing photos of your product, and how would you capitalise upon the sudden media attention which came with it?
Well if you run the British Carrot Association, you issue a vaguely interested press snippet and go back to doing what you do best; talking about Beta-Carotene.
It’s one of these new Facebook-led stories. It began with a Facebook group titled "On May 15th 2008, everybody needs to go out and panic buy CARROTS" which had this mission statement:
"Basically, a few nights ago, when I was very very drunk, I came up with the idea that everybody should go out and panic buy a certain product on a specific day.
I’m not quite sure what the reason behind this is is, other than the fact that a global shortage of carrots would be quite a laugh. "
In short, this intriguing Facebook group has become popular with over 150,000 people (in less than a month – this is going to grow much higher) planning to go out and buy as many carrots as possible on May 15. They now even have a website and are generating a fair deal of mainstream media coverage.
It’s stupid, but we’ve all seen worse PR hits. However, as the group grew the attention turned to what to do with all the carrots after you’ve bought them? So the community began trading carrot-recipes and philanthropic ideas.
Now you can’t help noticing the carrot industry is missing a huge opportunity here. Or they’ve shocked everyone by engineering this entire social-media campaign from the beginning (Wispa style).
So New Woman and First, two popular women’s magazines featuring the usual Celebrity gossip and fashion/beauty/sex advice, have gone under. Well, they are “suspended pending a month-long consultation process”.
Now, if your client considered New Woman a key publication. What are you going to tell your client? How are you going to justify your fees now? What if you’ve previously invoiced for “relationship building” with journalists at New Woman? New Woman is just one example (just today’s example) of a magazine going under. And like others, it’s going to affect a fair few PR agencies out there.
This is where the battleground within communications is. When a client sees a key magazine going under, do they wonder what their PR agency can do for them now? Do SEO companies see it as an opportunity to pounce with an alternative? Or Direct marketing agencies? How about advertising agencies?
How are we fighting to keep clients which overrate print media? Is the switch to online PR so easy? How are you tracking where the New Woman readership goes next?
FeverBee is the blog and company created by Richard Millington.
Richard Millington is the Founder and Managing Director of FeverBee Limited, a community consultancy, and The Pillar Summit, an exclusive community management training course.
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