How Bad PR Can Help Your Business
Brands use social media where they once used news outlets, advertorial magazines, and TV adverts.
Modern businesses have grasped that online interactions can speed up the process of generating leads, converting them and growing a customer base.
These companies build social interaction into their marketing strategy, and those who previously would have worked in advertising have moved across to digital to keep up with the demand for pace.
However, there's a slight problem.
This breakneck pace is only as good as the team who generate marketing content, and sometimes it can go wrong – very wrong.
It seems we cannot go more than a couple of weeks without a brand or celebrity causing an uproar, outrage, or actual damage.
It's tempting always to blame Twitter or Youtube, but a lot of this negative press is generated by real-world concerns form real world people.
Recent PR nightmares have shown that even the biggest, brightest brands have trouble reigning back business after a public disaster.
For the small business owner the prospect of getting it wrong or talking out of turn is something we dread, and if we don't show some resilience or intelligence, it can mean the end of the line.
Here are a few tips on how to turn bad PR to your advantage.
Publicly recognise your failings
Often, if you don't have an experienced team controlling your marketing or PR, you can misjudge how your demographic will react to your content.
For a while now, poorly created marketing has become a gold mine of viral material, whether it's in politics, fashion, or fast food.
A bad marketing video can even have a longer lifeline than one that is well created.
We're seeing a trend of embarrassing haircuts and clothes from the ‘80s and ‘90s turning up on meme-sharing sites.
On some occasions, it can even mean a renewed interest in another wise dead brand.
If at some point, you find your brand image is one of scorn, you should own it.
The internet using public like to see poor, unself-conscious, brand images.
By recognising the ridiculousness of your brand image, you've shown good grace, and that you, too are in on the joke.
It's worth taking note of the brands who do go viral.
As above, many brands go viral because of their lack of humour though appearing quite ridiculous.
For some customers, a lack of inhibition is key to conversion.
Therefore, you can carefully craft a similar image when creating PR campaigns.
A brand that can get its customer to laugh is a brand that people are going to take notice of.
When creating your brand image think not just of what has gone before, as people can see a forced joke a mile off, but that which will make you as a consumer laugh.
At times you might come across social media commentators who are looking to take a pot shot at your brand.
As brands like Wendys know, you can turn this to your advantage.
Understand that if your customers can see you can hold your own in a twitter battle, let's say, they'll find it easier to get on board with your brand.
A note of caution, though – make sure the commentator doesn't have a legitimate concern and remember to keep it light.
No-one likes an aggressive brand image.
At times, we do get it horribly wrong.
We can be found delivering poor service, send out an offending tweet or otherwise be painted in a less than flattering light on social media.
There are some very notable, high profile brands that have caused untold damage on themselves by refusing to step up and apologise.
Recognising when we've got it wrong shows our customers humanity.
Though the event or act that has brought us a bad reputation can turn people off of our brand, a well thought out, a genuine apology can improve our rating with customers.
It shows that you are prepared to listen, as a company, to your customers and potential clientele.
Importantly, you should follow up on your apology.
When you've corrected or improved your service shortfalls, you should flaunt it.
This is where a PR disaster can be turned into an opportunity.
Depending on how many improvements you need to make, you can create a long-running campaign based on how you intend to address customer concerns.
Setting up a challenge for the customer
There is another way to embrace bad PR, and that is to go out of your way to make your brand seem inaccessible.
Brands that seem to exclude a large chunk of the population are presenting a challenge to the customer.
There's a dark charm to this kind of branding, but it needs to be done right, not rudely.
In the past, this kind of advertising was quite popular, but would often exclude demographics through bigotry and misogyny.
These days, you have to find ways to maintain exclusivity without singling out one demographic for derision.
Think about creating something a little like a call to action, but flip it on its head.
By making your brand seem unreachable, you've created a sense of individuality in the brand.
Customers who buy into your brand will think of it as a badge of courage and contribute into giving your product or service a cult status.
Some brands or personalities have thrived on being cult-like in their branding.
Think of the perennial Che Guevara T-shirts that once adorned student bedrooms around the world.
Whatever you think of his politics, the image is now so iconic that you cannot help but wonder at how well received anti-establishment branding works.
Showing that you are prepared to make a political stand is a bit of a minefield in the current political atmosphere, and you should be very careful in how far you are ready to go.
Whatever your anti-establishment message, you should take a good look at your business practices and ensure that you practice what you preach.
It's no good trying to appear anti-establishment to appeal to the ‘youth' market.
Those who buy into an anti-establishment brand will do so with caution and research your company before making a decision.
Depending on where you operate, you should also ensure that you aren't breaking any laws or endorsing destructive and divisive points of view.
This is a highly contentious subject, so be as informed as you can be before taking a hard anti-establishment stance in your branding.
It will make you stand out but will, undoubtedly, draw much criticism and practically destroy the ability to target some demographics.
Aside from politics, you can take a rough, trashy stance to your brand.
Some demographics trust a sloppy, uncouth approach to their brand.
Depending on your brand, you can cultivate a DIY image that paradoxically, appears not to care about PR.
Disdain for the world of PR and Marketing, is, in itself a brand image which can work very well.
In effect, you can go out of your way to cultivate a bad PR image; you'll attract many users who are searching for something authentic.
There's nothing more authentic and compelling that the image of an outsider.
However, it's crucial not to try too hard to cultivate this image.
Otherwise, you could end up damaging your brand.
Understanding the demographic that seek outsider status is not an easy thing to achieve, partly because this demographic don't tend to participate with surveys actively.
However, researching this demographic runs counter to what you are trying to achieve.
In short – do what feels right and let the chips fall where they may.
A so-bad-it's-good reputation
However – perhaps you are doing everything you need to already.
Above, we saw how some brands unconsciously stumble into the public spotlight through poorly created content or ridiculous public image disasters.
There are products and services, too, that suffer from bad PR.
A consistently bad product or service is, at least, consistent.
At the end of the day, this is all many customers look for.
Fast food chains don't often offer healthy alternatives; they pay the idea lip service.
The poor quality service from an airline becomes a running joke, and yet they remain in business. Why?
Because people like to encounter something they recognise.
For some brands, this has become an operating model.
So even if you get consistently bad reviews or a widespread panning in the media, why not see if you can turn it to your advantage?
An obscure director named Tommy Wiseau was relatively unheard of five years ago.
Yet his terrible film ‘The Room' has remained in cinemas, attracting audience across the world.
Tommy Wiseau, despite his terrible acting and directing, has become a household name – all through carefully executed PR.
Concluding Bad PR
Hopefully, you'll never have to find a reason to overcome bad PR, but I hope if this article has shown anything, that there is some substance to the old maxim, ‘All PR is good PR'.
Though this is not entirely true (rightly, there are some instances where a brand or personality can go down in flames), it is worth understanding the opportunities a bad PR event can bring.