While there have been many horror stories about how damaging negative publicity can spiral out control there is a school of thought that says any publicity is good publicity. The fact that your business is getting any media attention (albeit negative) is good as it raises you profile and is better than not being talked about.
I work for Empica PR and we have been involved in managing publicity for a controversial ad campaign by the heath and fitness club at Cadbury House. With so many people wanting to lose weight following the festive period theclub's marketing agency launched an integrated campaign in the first weeks of January to inspire people to join. It focused on an image of an alien with the tag line 'When the aliens come they will eat the fatties first' and was used across newspaper advertising, banners, leaflets and poster sites.
From a PR perspective we at Empica recognised this issue could be controversial though we could not predict exactly how it would unfold. We were keen to create discussion to increase exposure for the campaign. As it happened several people complained about the ad being offensive and discriminatory to over-weight people. The local press picked up on the complaints and carried our official statement from Cadbury House telling our side of the story and how it was meant in good humour – although with shock tactics aimed at those who had over-indulged at Christmas.
Often when a negative story appears the PR agency works hard to keep coverage to a minimum, in this case we positively encouraged it to snowball. It appeared in the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and on BBC radio. Now we had a story running we used online techniques to encourage debates about the pros and cons of the advert with bloggers. At this point we were being contacted by Sci-fi sites in the USA and gym manager Jason Eaton was even interviewed on Australian radio station, 4BC!
The ad campaign sparked one complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority – who dismissed it out of hand; most people joined the debate taking the advertisement as it was intended – as a piece of good natured humour. There were hundreds of comments online with people expressing there opinions. Our stance was it certainly was not meant to offend and the fact it features an Alien shows it was tongue-in-cheek.
As part of the overall strategy I also launched a social media strategy involving Twitter and Facebook to maximise publicity online. Part of this included a competition over Twitter where they gave away free memberships to the first 25 retweeters. The memberships went within the hour.
Social media gave this campaign a whole new dimension and certainly assisted the propagation of it worldwide. It provided another avenue for people to share their opinions about the issue and contribute to the discussion. Although certain aspects of the campaign were planned, we believe the real value of social media is to act fast and take advantage of opportunities.
This campaign is still growing and evolving. An initial seed was sown resulting in some negative publicity but the story continues to provide 'food for thought' as you can see from the video below.
You can learn a lot from reviewing old advertisements. Sure, they may not be sophisticated but going back to basics is a good way to gain clarity on your own material.
Waterman’s Fountain Pens advertised as an independent company for nearly 100 years before being taken over by Sandford who still have the brand today.
By taking an overview of the headlines, you can understand how they can support the positioning of your company. Building credibility takes time and this is why it makes sense to consider the long term impact of headlines on your website, brochures, direct mail and advertisements.
By keeping in mind where you want your company to be in three to five years, you can create headlines supporting that desired positioning.
Now, Waterman’s used two types of headlines during their most successful period (1900-1920s). One was just the company’s name. This was acceptable as they were well known and had already been in existence over 25 years then. In today’s climate, this won’t really work unless you have a well known, internationally recognisable brand.
Now what is more important is their use of the short headlines. Here is a selection:
1900s The most important part of your vacation outfit
1910s Simple, Reliable, Durable, Inexpensive and Guaranteed
1910s The tool of opportunity
1910s An expression of intelligent appreciation
1920s Try Waterman’s before you buy
1920s A letter a day while you are away
1920s One of these will fit your perfectly?
In the 1910s, they also used one word headlines such as Speed and Self-Regulating.
The headlines highlighted what the user would experience if they used a Waterman’s Pen or, relating to the aspirations of those using a Waterman’s pen.
This approach is still valid today. By understanding the feelings of your market, you are able to appeal to their aspirations or the fears to grab their attention.
Dig out all your headlines. Read them in chronological order, what do they say about your business? Is it congruent with how you are positioning in the market place?
By doing this review, you are able to understand what is being received. You are able to change the words, the tone and the feel of the headline to fit with where you want to be in the future.
Remember, by maintaining true to the long game, you are building the future each day with every headline and every piece of material.
We had some great ideas from our readers on how to handle the festive yet fictitious PR crisis of Dickens’ most miserable small business owner, Scrooge.
First up, @SimonJTurner suggested the simple use of a social media and search strategy in order to play to his negative strengths, saying he would recommend that Ebeneezer “go down the Social Media route - Portray his 'Bah Humbug' sentiments as ironic & give him a blog for link bait.”
Similarly, @theinsidelineuk reckoned that Scrooge has all the qualities necessary to be the face of a price comparison website. His thrifty, tight-pocketed character is a natural fit with such a venture and @theinsidelineuk even suggested a name and strapline: “Scrooge.com - Saving you money, on everything!”
The wider debate of dealing with a tricky PR case was explored by Chris Hughes, head of PR and communications with Sine Qua Non International Ltd. “The knack to any crisis is to avert it in the first place!" Chris stressed. "Assuming we are past that stage, the business owner should use local media to give staff the feeling that they are an integral cog in the business wheel.”
The Frockery offered some rather creative thoughts on how to deal with Scrooge the small business way - and got in a cunning plug for their business at the same time:
“As one of our best customers, Scrooge is better known to us as Sustaina Bill! Like us, he believes it’s not only frugal, but also fashionable and eco-friendly to go retro, and he carries off that Victorian re-enactor’s costume better than most. Look after the planet and the wallet will look after itself, he reckons – and besides, it’s all positive PR.
“This Christmas, he tells us that, having saved so much money at The Frockery, he is treating his staff to two pints of lager and a packet of crisps (each!) in true Scroogenessabounds style.”
Of course, Scrooge could be seen as a hopeless case. After all, in A Christmas Carol this cruelles, most cold-hearted of individuals was beyond earthly influence and needed a magical intervention to see the error of his ways. Emily Leary, a Marketing Donut expert, wonders whether ANY PR company could handle sucha difficult account:
“My feeling is that no honest PR could rescue Scrooge's reputation," she admits. "Any claims that put a spin on his motives would be dishonest, and, contrary to popular belief, that's not what PR is all about! You could argue that he's just a shrewd businessman and try to pitch him as a savvy entrepreneur, likeable because of sheer success - but without any evidence of redeeming or charitable behaviour in any area of his life, that would be a hard one to sell. He's a pretty two-dimensional baddy until he starts to reflect on his past.”
A post-visitation Scrooge, however, is a different prospect altogether and Emily reckons any PR firm worth its salt should be able to make hay from the inspirational story of a reformed businessman with a new outlook on life. “There's a great 'turning over a new leaf' angle, of course, which, if pitched right, could get national interest given the amount of money he has accumulated and the very human story of young Tim and his family," she explains. "There could also be interest from HR and business, both in Scrooge the man, and in the business case study if Scrooge was able to measure productivity and profit levels before and after his shift to the goodwill approach. A little regular, ongoing charity work in the community, and he could be looking at a reasonably good reputation."
Amen to that. Thanks for all your contributions - and have a prosperous, enjoyable and realaxing Christmas and New Year.
For some, Christmas can be a quiet and relaxing time of year. The other day I spoke to a company that designs letterheads, and whose busiest time of year is in line with the taxman’s. They had their proverbial feet up and were tucking into what I expect wasn’t the first mince pie of the season. For others, Christmas is a hectic time when staff holiday needs to be covered or a rush of trade means there are more orders than there are re-runs of Dad’s Army.
For the smaller business, Christmas can be a busy – and expensive – time of year, especially if you are looking to reward, staff, clients and suppliers for their support and custom through the preceding 12 months. Christmas cheer can be in short supply and financial constraints may mean you have to forego the traditional Christmas party; in no time at all, you could be branded a Scrooge.
Our literary friend Scrooge is now a byword for miserable, tight and cold of heart. But he, too, was running a small business and had to look after the needs of his firm. It’s likely he faced many of the same business challenges as you.
But somewhere along the way, Scrooge messed up one very important aspect of running a business: he neglected his reputation. Whichever way you look at it, every firm trades on its reputation and relies on good PR and word-of-mouth recommendation to grow and prosper. As it turns out, Scrooge redeems himself in A Christmas Carol, but only after a series of unlikely ghostly visitations.
If Scrooge were a real business-owner running a real small business, how would you handle his PR? What course of action would you take to put the positive spin into Scrooge? How would you avert a Scrooge PR crisis? Is a Humbug a hopeless case when it comes to reputation management? We want your ideas, creative, serious or otherwise.
You have until next Tuesday (15 December) to get your submission in and we’ll write it up into a festive blog post. Either share your thoughts in a succinct tweet or we will happily accept anything under 100 words. Please submit your contribution to us by:
It never ceases to amaze me in this digital age, just how many people fail to the make the most of their PR.
Say you write an article that appears in all its glory on, oh I don’t know, let’s say The Marketing Donut. Fantastic. That particular site gets thousands of visits per day and could potentially get your insightful, carefully written advice in front of a healthy slab of potential clients.
But what happens in a week or two when the link to your post has fallen off the Marketing Donut’s front page? Well, you’ll probably still get some visits to the post, but the main exposure generated by the article will have passed, and with it, the benefit it brought to your profile. Unless…
If you’re going all out on the public relations front, the chances are you have a website too. On that website you could create a media coverage page. On that page, you could post links to (or copies of) all of the coverage you have achieved. Why? Because media coverage can lend credibility to your brand, and if visitors to your site can browse through your mentions in the media, they are more likely to value your offering.
There are plenty of examples of how to lay out a media coverage area all over the web – just do a quick search to see everything from a simple to list of links to flashy animated affairs. The only vital thing to note is that you must get permission from the publication before placing a copy of the feature on your own site. This needs to be done even if you wrote the piece in the first place, and it’s good practice to include a link to the original source too.
Now, I’m off to clip this article about media coverage pages, and get it up on my media coverage page (with the editor’s permission, of course).
I have seen some things. I have seen a celebrity open a supermarket and to declare it “The best supermarket I have ever been to” and then I saw him wax lyrical about his latest project as swooning young girls lined up to meet him in the foyer without entering the newly opened store in question. I have seen a launch event cancelled because the star that had been booked for the event was in court.
I did not see the latest wave of the desperate and insufferable enter a jungle in Australia in the name of entertainment, egotism and career revitalisation. However, I am sure that in the next year, many of them will be cashing in on their time in the jungle shared with creeps, crawlies and lest we forget, all those bugs, spiders and snakes too!
Hiring a celebrity to promote your business or event can be risky. The eventual termination of Kerry Katona’s contract with Iceland is a prime example of how things can go awry.
Of course a small business won’t have the resources to fly in David Hasselhoff or Christopher Biggins. So what can you do when your budget doesn’t stretch to someone who used to be in Eastenders but is now in The Bill?
Well, you could always take the route chosen by a newly launched enterprise around the corner from our Bristol office. A former Woolworths store has just been re-opened under the name of ‘Woolies’. Within the building is an indoor market with a range of stalls offering fresh meat, footwear and flowers. The new venture was opened in style by none other than a Del Boy impersonator. So convincing was the look-alike, one local blog reported ‘Actor David Jason was also present.’
A celebrity fresh out of the jungle will come at a premium and so why not go for the next best thing? With a tongue-in-cheek booking of a look-alike, you will be sure to save vital marketing funds and have some fun in the process. Make your launch event a hassle(-hoff) free experience!