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For years a myth has plagued those who work in the media relations/public relations industry that “any press is good press.” Yet the idea that any news is good news for the publicity of a company or person has been proven untrue by many examples of publicity gone wrong. In July of 2011, the Atlantic News Paper ran a story discussing the ten companies that were “burned” worst by bad publicity.
The number one company on their list was global gas and oil company,BP, whose Deepwater Horizon oil spill was described as, “the largest public relations disaster in corporate history.” This incident in 2010 was the largest oil spill the industry had ever seen, and after viewing the devastation that ravaged marine life and human industries along the Gulf Coast,the infuriated citizens of the Gulf Coast states looked to BP.
The oil spill itself was horrendous enough but the response from the corporate heads at BP was simply insulting to all those affected by the tragedy. Not only did officials from BP refuse to take responsibility for the accident, they also put the blame on the individuals who were drilling and the contractors who were in their employment. As images of birds covered in oil struggling to fly on Louisiana beaches were splashed across national newspapers, the officials at BP continued to deny their part on the tragedy. As a result of their response BP received a huge, negative backlash of public opinion who saw the company as apathetic and uncaring.
When working in public relations it is important to distinguish between good publicity and bad publicity. As BP learned, the axiom “all press is good press,” is clearly false. More citizens are able to access news at a faster rate than ever before, and it is essential for companies to not only tell the truth but accept responsibility during times of crisis. In an age where information is readily accessible by any person with a computer, television or smart phone, it is necssary for companies to be forthcoming, responsible and above all truthful and honest.
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One of the most frustrating things that a company can do during a time of crisis is not to acknowledge what is happening. As I have mentioned many times in my blog posts the social media climate has changed the way that people access and share information, and because of this companies must change the way they respond to crisis or scandal or get left behind in a cloud of public resentment.
In a post by the Bernstein Crisis Management team, they discuss how companies are hesitant to join the conversation during times of crisis, but how it is essential to the integrity of the company to release accurate and truthful information. There are so many examples today of companies who leave for the weekend and come back on Monday only to discover that a social media storm has engulfed them while they have been absent. A company who does not respond or communicate effectively is often seen as lacking empathy and responsibility.
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Even though we are only a few days into the third month of 2012, there have already been a healthy dosage of PR blunders. From the rant of a popular football wife, to the poor handling of a major crisis, 2012 has already opened the gates with some major public relations mishaps.
One of the most talked about blunders was made by Gisele Bundchen, famed Victoria’s Secret model and wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. After a devastating loss in the 2012 Superbowl in which the Pats had many chances to score a touchdown, Gisele was captured on video responding negatively to taunting New York Giants fans who were saying that her husband can only throw the football, but that he can’t catch it too. She was blaming the loss on the numerous fumbles by the Patriot wide receivers. Criticizing other players is unacceptable in the world of sports wives, and Gisele had the bad fortune to get caught on tape doing it.
Another major blunder of 2012 involved Susan G. Komen CEO Nancy Brinkler. The foundation announced that they would discontinue funding for Planned Parenthood due to the abortion services that are offered. The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, is the largest breast-cancer organization in the U.S. ? and is known for providing womens’ services such as breast cancer screenings. After the announcement many supporters of Planned Parenthood were furious that they would stop funding an organization which offers free contraception and similar health screening services to women. To make matters worse, CEO Nancy Brinkler appeared on MSNBC and further infuriated her supportersby reacting defensively and refusing to acknowledge the truth in the situation. Instead of reassuring her supporters, she angered them by lying on national television about the influence of their vice president, who stated she was staunchly against the mission of Planned Parenthood, and also about the grants that they were supposedly continuing to give to the organization. Brinkler and the organization eventually apologized for their mishandling of the situation and retracted their announcement to discontinue funding.
These are only two examples of many media blunders that have happened in 2012, but they demonstrate how aware the public has become. Companies can no longer afford to ignore or manipulate the truth about a situation because the negative backlash can be profoundly influential, as both Gisele Bunchden and the Susan G. Komen foundation learned his year.
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Public relations is not exactly the industry that is known for being trustworthy and honest. In fact, it is often known for just the opposite. Edelman’s Trust Barometer revealed in 2010 that according to the survey “trust is an essential line in business,” and that being a transparent, honest, trustworthy business are among the top ranked qualities for a company to possess.
It is important for companies to present the most honest and ethical face to their public. Many times a company or public figure will initially address a scandal with a false truth or spin, refusing to acknowledge the actual problem. This compromises the integrity of the company, and chances are the public will eventually find out the truth, further compromising the public perception of the company.
Keeping your integrity in public relations is not easy. Scandals are not called scandals without reason, and no company wants to admit that their cars’ brakes are defective, or that it was their employee who sent out that inflammatory tweet. But to be an transparent business where the truth is readily available is becoming an invaluable tool in today’s society.
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In today’s social media saturated world, you would be hard pressed to find somebody who does not have a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or at the very least a Myspace. At the most basic level social media has completely revolutionized the way that people communicate and share their lives online. Social media platforms have similarly changed the way that companies and celebrities interact with the public.
Twitter specifically has given fans the ultimate tool to directly communicate and sometimes even interact with their favorite celebrities. Through Twitter you can tell Coldplay how amazing their Grammy performance was, commiserate with Kim Kardashian about her most recent break up, or tell Lil’ Wayne what you thought of his latest album. Twitter has also helped companies, organizations and groups become more reachable by providing a channel for customers to give feedback on a product, complain about a bad experience, or applaud a recent purchase. Establishing online communication via Twitter has become essential for businesses and celebrities because it helps create brand loyalty.
I recently spoke with a friend who contacted a travel agency to request the online special that had been advertised though he had already purchased his travel package. After he was denied the online rate, he took to his Twitter and complained that the special was misleading and how disappointed he was with their customer service. Within minutes, he receieved a call from the agency’s director of hospitality who offered him an extra night free of charge for his hassle. While not every complaint is acknowledged this promptly, or as generously, this is a perfect example of how Twitter can help a business interact with its customers and establish brand loyalty at the same time.
Twitter is also useful for celebrities, who can announce apperances, special events, concert dates, important notices, and also personal messages to fans. Pop icon Lady Gaga has a Twitter following of almost 20 million and she uses her account to communicate and receive feedback from her loyal followers. Twitter gives celebrities the opportunity to keep fans more involved in what they are doing, and when they are doing it. Just as companies can create brand loyalty through customer communication, so too can celebrities create a loyal Twitter base through fan interaction.