Published on Apr 4, 2016

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Oscar Wilde once said the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.  That might be true, but what happens when a business or brand is being talked about for the wrong reasons?

According to Stanford University economics professor Alan Sorensen, it depends upon how well known the brand was before it got bad publicity. newspaper77

In a 2010 study Prof. Sorensen looked into the effect a negative review in the New York Times had on book sales.  For established authors, a positive review saw sales soar by 42 per cent compared with a bad review which caused sales to slump by 15 per cent.

Unknown authors did not suffer the same fate; whether the review was good or bad they saw a sales boost of 33 per cent just by merit of being reviewed by the prestigious publication.

Prof. Sorensen applied this theory to business in general and found similar results.  He put it down to the difference between how long it takes for a negative perception to fade versus how long a customer retains a general awareness of a product.

As customers we are more likely to buy products or services from brands we recognise.  We might not remember the reason we recognise brand XYZ is because the owner was involved in a scandal reported in the news five months ago, or because we read a terrible review.  The important thing is we are aware of brand XYZ and that gives us confidence in our purchase.

While it may be heartening to know a bit of bad publicity is not the end of the world, it’s also not an advisable long-term strategy to boost sales.

An online glasses retailer in the United States attempted to test the limits of bad publicity, and it worked up until the point Vitaly Borker’s misguided strategy landed him a $100,000 fine and four years in prison.

Mr Borker used poor customer service tactics ranging from overcharging and supplying counterfeit products through to threats of physical violence to ensure his customers posted negative reviews on consumer websites and message boards to boost his business to the top of Google search rankings.

In 2011 Mr Borker pleaded guilty to charges relating to fraud and threats he made against 25 of his customers.  Google has since changed the way it ranks businesses to account for negative reviews.

What about some good publicity?

Journalists are busy, and their numbers are dwindling.  Make their jobs easier and you are likely to get some free publicity.

  1. Be newsworthy. Journalists look for stories that have timeliness, proximity, conflict, prominence, human interest and/or shock value.
  2. Be the EST. The oldest, the newest, the smallest or the first.
  3. Be an expert. Is there something happening in the news that you can comment on?  Share your knowledge.
  4. Be kind. Sponsor a team, do something philanthropic in support of your community.
  5. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to rock the boat, just make sure you’re honest and authentic.

Click here to find out how to write a winning media release.