Can a Brand survive negative publicity?

August 5, 2011

Once upon a time, in a dreary public relations department, a stressed out pr assistant muttered the phrase 'there is no such thing as bad publicity' as her fuming boss clutched a typo riddled press release.

Well this is not exactly true, it is actually attributed to the Irish author Brendan Behan, but for the purpose of this article lets stick with my version.

In an age when news is instantaneous there is no room for error on the behalf of businesses, especially when it comes to their public relations operations.
Take for example Toyota. Once touted as 'the best built car in the world', the spate of mechanical errors reduced its status as market leader to something of a pariah within a matter of months. Their early PR attempts were a complete disaster and they have spent millions not only physically rebuilding their cars but rebuilding their reputation.
Sanlu, the Chinese milk company, which was found to have contaminated milk products went from an institution to a bankrupt company with many of its top officials behind bars. I'm quick to point out that these are two extreme cases and do not necessarily reflect the impact of bad publicity. 
Apple were also in the firing line for their faulty antenna in the iphone. Again, their first approach was to go on the defensive. This angered customers more than the actual fault. There are however lessons to be learnt from these events. primarily, the manner in which companies deal with negative publicity. Time and time again when something goes wrong, companies batten down the hatches and cut off all contact with the outside world.
It seems pretty obvious but people respect honesty. So business in crisis needs to gather all the information and be forthright with their public.
Bad news/information given out by a company is one thing but bad news blocked and hidden by a company will be received a lot worse.

So with all this in mind, can businesses actually survive negative publicity? In short, yes. It all depends on how proactive a company is in responding to a negative event. Sometimes the damage to the company's name is far greater than can be imagined and the cost to repair it a significant figure. In these situations the company, once the situation has been handled effectively, should look at a full rebrand. This has a positive impact for two reasons. The first it cuts all ties with the original tainted brand and secondly, if done correctly, can show customers that the company has 'grown up' and learnt from the past.
For those, like the News of the World, who decide to continue deceiving their public it is only a matter of time when it all comes crashing down.

Eric Hennelly Flanagan, Six Degrees
Six Degrees is a marketing agency based in Galway, Ireland. It offers a full range of social media and marketing services tailored to suit the requirements of the client. We not only develop strategies to enhance and develop brands, but offer continued support and advice to maintain the momentum of any brand building exercise. Our focus is to deliver the maximum results to each of our clients, with a friendly personal service.