All publicity isn’t good publicity: What smart PR looks like

Catriona Pollard

CP Communications founder and chief executive officer Catriona Pollard. Source: Supplied.

It is often said there is no such thing as bad publicity. As Oscar Wilde famously said, ‘the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about’. From politicians to reality TV stars, this is certainly the approach we see taken by many public figures.

Negative publicity has been seen to help relatively unknown companies or products quickly gain awareness. Good or bad publicity can take brands from unknown to known, increasing initial sales and search hits.

However, bad publicity can ultimately damage a business — often beyond repair. While short-term awareness may be tempting, this is made at the expense of the business’ long-term reputation.

The following publicity-seeking behaviours remind us the only good publicity is good publicity.

Putting others down to get publicity

Many figures use public outcry and publicly slam others to create controversy and draw attention to themselves. Pauline Hanson has largely built her career by capitalising on the media attention gained from attacking minority groups. Hanson has become notorious for her scapegoating antics and public attacks. 

While Pauline’s verbal assaults have generated regular publicity, they have also been significantly damaging to her credibility. Having built a reputation as an offensive figure of division, Pauline has faced a decline in public respect.

Although voicing negative opinions can generate publicity, negativity often reflects back onto the criticiser.   

PR stunts

One-off PR stunts can quickly generate widespread public awareness and media attention. However, these stunts are often miscalculated and fail to communicate their intended message.

PETA’s stunt of barbequing a fake but lifelike dog in Sydney’s Pitt Street Mall on Australia Day 2019 was slammed for causing distress, particularly for children.

The protest gained widespread attention for the cruelty and horror of the demonstration. PETA’s intended message was shrouded by the extremity of the stunt, which was met with public outrage.

If you’re considering a PR stunt to boost your profile, remember to carefully consider your audience and make sure it avoids causing offence or harm.

The shock effect

Many contestants on reality TV shows, such as The Bachelor and Married at First Sight, create drama with the hopes of increasing their screen time. The ‘villain’ is often nasty and cruel to other contestants with the intention of creating a feud or scandal to shock viewers.

These contestants often enjoy short-lived fame during the show for all the wrong reasons, before quickly fading out of the public mind.

What good PR looks like

At the end of the day, the only good publicity is good publicity! Good publicity doesn’t have to be costly, but it does have to be authentic, clever and well-timed.

This was demonstrated by Qantas Group chief executive officer Alan Joyce’s heart-warming response to a letter sent in by a 10-year-old boy who dreams of running his own airline. Joyce shared the boy’s letter and personally responded with guidance and tips.

This response is likely to stay in the minds of uplifted readers through its clever and genuine communication of key Qantas messages.

Becoming an industry leader and exemplar for best practice takes time and consistently good publicity. Gaining a good reputation relies on clever communication and the authenticity of the message being communicated.

While bad publicity can quickly generate widespread attention, good publicity is the only way to gain and sustain genuine prominence.

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