The PR Guru

October 13, 2009

Is all publicity really good publicity?

There is an old adage which says ‘all publicity is good publicity’ – in other words just getting your name in the paper, whether it’s a positive or a negative story, is a good idea.

Is that really the case, or is it more a case of ‘no news is good news’?

I’d say the reality is somewhere between the two. A lot of stories can be presented as a positive one for your company. Even the bad ones.

For example, take a story about turnover. If a company has had a record year, turnover is usually expressed in actual figures – and why not? We don’t reward ourselves enough in business when we hit or beat those targets!

Alternatively, if a company has had an average year, turnover is often expressed as a percentage. That’s because the majority of people will not bother to find out what it equates to – assuming the figures are even submitted to Companies House.

It can also be reported as a percentage if you’re a small business, starting from a lower base. You could say your turnover has grown by 100%, even if you’ve just gone from one customer to two!

I jest of course, but this is perhaps why PR has a bit of a bad reputation for ‘spinning’ the story, and why PR agencies in Staffordshire and elsewhere are often distrusted. You could say PR has an image problem 🙂

Anyway I am drifting off the point slightly here. Yes, many stories can be presented in a good light. But not all.

In a way I would hate to be the PR person for Royal Mail, Trafigura or even our MPs at the moment. All three have done themselves absolutely no favours this week.

On the other hand, anyone experienced in crisis management could make an absolute fortune with these projects!

They would certainly have their work cut out with the Trafigura job. It’s rare that something backfires so disastrously as their attempt to stop The Guardian reporting from Parliament this week.

It’s known as the Streisand Effect – a company tries to stop news coming out, but by doing so immediately makes the story bigger than it would’ve been.

I think what it’s also shown is that social media like Twitter are beginning to find their feet and play a major part in reporting and making the news. Without the outcry on Twitter over the gagging order, Trafigura‘s lawyers Carter-Ruck would never have had to back down.

You may wonder why a PR man is waffling on about press freedom, in the light of what I said earlier about the presentation – or some might say the manipulation – of stories.

It’s quite simple though really. The PR industry needs the media as much as the media needs the PR industry. One can’t exist without the other.

But more importantly without press freedom, or something close to it, we can’t function as a society.


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