Phineas T. Barnum, the 19th century American showman and circus owner, reputedly said, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” If he were alive today, Barnum might find a kindred spirit in Alfred Mbai.
A public relations strategist and a mediapreneur, Mbai admits negative experiences are not good. At the same time, it’s not the end of the world for entrepreneurs, as he explained during an Africa Tweet Chat.
“Bad publicity is the adverse publicity that a firm may incur due to a particular reason,” he said. “This may lead to a firm’s reputation among its publics being badly tarnished. Needless to say, bad publicity hurts business real bad.”
Naturally, Mbai believes brands should hire public relations pros to help them deal with bad publicity rather than handling it themselves.
“Public recognition and trust are huge aspects of business success,” he said. “By virtue of the expertise they hold, PR pros can develop awareness, extend credibility, generate trust and motivate the audience’s responses toward a company and its products and services.”
Mbai explained that brands should hire PR experts because of three fundamental reasons:
- Objective Evaluation. Businesses should not underestimate the importance of having a strategic partner offer an independent evaluation of newsworthy events. Not all news is newsworthy.
- Media Specialists. PR pros are media specialists who have strategically built up an extensive array of contacts, relationships and connections with journalists, editors and publicists involved with mass media.
- Crisis management. Crises can strike any business and wreak havoc on the company’s credibility. Public relations companies are trained to react immediately and proactively to mitigate the damage of PR crises.
“Besides expertise, hiring a PR pro comes with two other fundamental benefits: Time and dedication toward building brand image and averting a possible crisis,” Mbai said.
Entrepreneurs should respond promptly to negative publicity in time-tested ways.
“Building trust — with clients, with journalists, with audiences — is still the name of the PR game,” Mbai said. “Only the tactics have changed.
“Dealing with bad publicity can be uncomfortable for everybody involved,” he said. “After all, nobody enjoys airing dirty laundry in public. There is always the worry for a business that things may become too negative, escalate and spiral out of control.”
Not a spectator sport
Mbai advises taking these steps today:
- Be prepared. The last thing you want is to be caught in a backlash with no defined protocol on how to react.
- Be proactive. Right or wrong, your brand will receive complaints that attract negative publicity. Does your brand respond?
- Be human. Humility and empathy count a lot.
“Most brands lose customers because of the time taken while narrowing down to the cause of the problem,” Mbai said. “While doing that, ensure your customers know you are looking into their issue.”
To verify return on investment, PR pros need ways to measure the success of publicity.
“Unlike advertising, which is purchased, publicity value is calculated by using the advertising value equivalency,” Mbai said. “This involves determining what editorial coverage in traditional media would cost if it was purchased as paid advertising.”
With that in mind, regaining trust can be difficult.
“First, don’t lose it,” Mbai said. “If you do, don’t ignore the problem. Brands need to be proactive. A disgruntled customer might buy from a brand if the brand reaches out, but might fail to buy if ignored.
“People buy people,” he said. “People want to know that the brand cares about them and values them. A simple response like, ‘Hi, we are looking at your issue,’ goes a long way.”
That circles back to the original premise: Bad publicity is good publicity.
“All publicity is good if it is intelligent,” Mbai said. “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
“Publicity is an ultimate goal for any PR manager,” he said. “Let your brand be the brand that decided to go for it.”
Going for it succeeds when capitalizing on the growing trends in the PR industry, which Mbai described:
- PR is continuing its alignment with content marketing. To reach your audiences, brands have to do more than shout the loudest. They have to deliver value, too.
- Personal branding for business leaders is becoming a PR priority. Thought leadership and personal branding have become important functions of modern PR teams.
- Demands for accountability have increased. Consistent pitching is absolutely part of the PR process.
- PR is playing a big role in content performance, not just publication.
“We read. We teach. We learn. We share. We remember,” Mbai said, citing good use of PR and other business tools. “Together, we are better brand managers.”