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Is There Really No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

Is There Really No Such Thing As Bad Publicity?

On Monday, March 27 many of us read the lead story by JCK and INSTORE online. The story: Spicer Greene Jewelers in Asheville, NC posted a billboard that received coverage in just about every national media outlet possible. If you’re a PR hound, you might be inclined to revert to the old adage that there really is no such thing as bad publicity. If you’re a business person, you may beg to differ. This is a story that appeared online on CNN, The Washington Post, Time and even made its way to a Chelsea Clinton’s tweet! The viral nature of this story was not unbelievable. The depth of bad publicity seemed to shock many in our industry. Many (in and out of our business) came to their defense with comments such as “this was blown way out of proportion” to “everyone needs to get a life”. Others were deeply offended. People have always had strong opinions one way or another. Today, however, everyone gets to share that voice and reach millions of people. So, the question remains: Is there such a thing as bad publicity? In a nutshell, there is. I’m not going to tell you where I stand on the matter because, in reality, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you all pay attention to a marketing campaign that went off its tracks. And, how a single marketing mistake can unleash immeasurable damage to your business and reputation. I have no doubt this billboard idea was born in innocence. I don’t believe these two young and bright owners set out to hurt a fly. And yet, they obviously did. Even if (as it was reported in the most recent National Jeweler online article) only 3% of the comments they received on their Facebook page was negative, it doesn’t take into consideration the number of people it might have offended who weren’t posting on Facebook. And, while it is so tough today to drive new customers to the store, do you really want to risk offending anyone? If there is another lesson in all of this, it also might be that marketing is serious business. It is important that you give great thought to what is being said about your brand, which has a lot at stake. Trust me, all publicity is not good publicity. Your business can take a big hit not only in sales but in public perception. Think of Spicer Greene. This is a business that is third generation and a reputable business in their area for over 90 years. Now, a significant number of people in their area (and around the country) think of them as insensitive. What they did in innocence cannot be undone. Even a gesture of donating money to a battered women’s charity (which they are doing) in their market, will not overshadow the insane amount of national and local press that will live online every time someone Googles their name. If you still feel that no publicity is bad publicity, I urge you to remember some businesses with a different tale to tell. In 2016, you would not want to be Wells Fargo, EpiPen or Samsung. It’s been years, but no one will ever forget or feel the same about BP. People no longer feel Toyota is all that honest. Bad publicity matters. Really bad publicity really matters. Granted, this story pales in comparison to some of those disasters. But, for a small business whose reputation matters, it’s big stuff indeed. I suppose you can also measure it this way: Would you have wanted to receive that publicity in your own market? And, the bigger question might be, if Spicer Greene had it to do all over again, would they? The takeaway: Be critical of what you say and do. The proverbial expression of “There’s no such thing as bad publicity” simply is not true. In fact, in January 1915, The Atlanta Constitution made reference to this expression in a very different way. As they wrote, “All publicity is good if it is intelligent”. Be smart out there.
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