Every public relations program has the risk of turning sour and producing negative publicity for the client. There is no way to prevent this from happening.
The reasons are many: A new product might not stand up to the claims of the client that it is superior to others, when consumer watchdog groups analyze it. A rival manufacturer might challenge the claim of the new products superiority.
The past misbehavior of a paid publicity spokesperson might be recapped during an interview.
In an attempt to secure a story in a major media outlet, a client or PR person might mislead the reporter, resulting in a negative story.
There are other reasons, of course: A PR crisis might develop in the midst of a promotional campaign or whistle blower revelations might occur.
There is no way to assure a client that any campaign will reach its conclusion free of negative publicity
Even so-called “do good” charitable and social campaigns have been exposed as not living up to their stated promises.
A common method of gaining media exposure in our business is for a company to align itself with a well-known organization, hire a spokesperson and use the connection to gain publicity. If publicity is a key part of a client’s program, suggesting such a tie-in might gain the positive results all clients want.
But some associations have a history of gaining negative publicity—the most prominent recent one was the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Dating back to the Nazi Germany 1936 Olympics, and more recently since the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, the 2021 Summer games in Tokyo and this year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, the chances of a company receiving positive publicity with an Olympic tie-in is pretty close to nil, or worse.
In Sochi, many companies had to cancel or pare back promotional plans because of protests from environmental, political and human rights groups.
In Tokyo, Japanese citizens protested against the Olympics being held during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sponsors promotional programs were severely limited.
For more than a year prior to the Beijing Games there were protests from government and human rights organizations against holding the Olympics in a totalitarian country.
But the overwhelming number of PR people will never have to navigate the negative publicity emanating from the above events
Most PR people will never work on a major event because the number of clients that are involved in big ticket events like the Olympics and Super Bowl or the Academy Awards pales next to the number of clients that want their PR agency to come up with a plan that will gain positive earned media without breaking the bank. With a little out-of-the box thinking it’s entirely possible to do so.
- Stay away from the big ticket promotional tie-ins. (The messages of many sponsors of those types of events get lost because of the clutter that the event attracts.)
- Seek out associations with organizations that normally do not receive much earned publicity. (Examples: Local businesses that are active in helping their communities and build a local or national publicity campaign around their efforts. Important to know: Local PR efforts can gain national media coverage if crafted with that in mind.)
- Take a public stance on an issue that is always newsworthy. (This is for a client that wants to become the face of an issue: Suggestions – A program about economic education for children has major coverage possibility in various sections of the media. So does a program that helps youngsters with homework and one for citizens on how to protect themselves from con artists.)
- For a sports minded company, avoid dealing with the major sports leagues and work with retired athletes to invent your own community program. (Locals firms are always looking for ways to gain notice. A local program like providing instructions and sports equipment for youngsters, can also gain national attention with the proper spokesperson; so can a program stressing the importance of physical fitness conditioning for youngsters and senior citizens with, perhaps, a program like “Train Like A Pro.”)
Creating your own unique publicity program is a sure way to gain the attention of management. Just make certain if you do so, you don’t let others take credit for your work.