“I don’t care what you think as long as it’s about me.”
– Fall Out Boy, “I Don’t Care,” Folie à Deux
At some point in life, we all have met that person, usually first in high school. It’s the person who will do anything to get attention, whether positive or negative. They want to be noticed by everyone and fast.
It’s the same kind of person that uses the phrase “Any publicity is good publicity.”
For anyone who believes in real public relations, that sentence is nails on a chalk board. It’s usually, but not always, spoken by someone not even in the industry. It’s like an NFL player saying race car drivers aren’t athletes.
Merriam Webster defines publicity as “something that attracts the attention of the public.” Simple enough. Where many drop the ball is how good publicity is defined. It all boils down to the basic quality verses quantity approach.
During the 2014 Super Bowl, it appeared a JC Penney staffer logged onto the corporate twitter account to do some drunk tweeting.
Who kkmew theis was ghiong tob e a baweball ghamle. #lowsscorinh 5_0
— JCPenney (@jcpenney) February 2, 2014
Toughdown Seadawks!! Is sSeattle going toa runaway wit h this???
— JCPenney (@jcpenney) February 3, 2014
The tweets quickly got retweeted, and noticed all over the twitter sphere. Shortly after, JC Penney came on twitter to say it was all just a prank to promote mittens. They got publicity! It was a success, right? It only depends on how you look at it. The stunt gained them 7,200 followers, most rubber neckers, hoping to watch the drunken escapades continue. For an account of roughly 280,000 at the time, it was only a 2% increase. For a corporation of their size, and during an event as big as the Super Bowl, that’s incredibly low. I’m willing to bet a large percentage of those followers unfollowed in days thereafter. Did they really care about the company, mittens or brand? Not so much. They wanted to watch a train wreck.
Publicity stunts rarely work in the long term, because they’re planned with a short term goal in mind: to get attention. What that brings you is short term publicity and usually damages your reputation.
Take Lady Gaga, for example. When she hit the scene, her stunts were intriguing. Odd, but she created interest. After four years of attention starved stunts, the integrity of her brand is crumbling. In April of 2013, it was released that over 70% of her 20 million twitter followers were fake. The November release of her latest album has been officially dubbed a flop due to disastrously low sales. In March of this year, her publicity team vehemently denied reports that her upcoming tour is suffering poor ticket sales as well. Whether or not the tour flop reports are true, her brand was built on the weak foundation of publicity stunts and it makes the bad news more believable.
When striving for good publicity, you need to ask yourself two questions.
1) Are people becoming informed about and familiar with your brand?
2) Is what they’re saying about your brand and those associated with you positive, e.g., will it create a return on investment?
Again, it all boils down to the simple quantity versus quality approach. Are you more concerned in how many people are talking about you or what it is they’re saying? It’s similar to when people buy twitter followers. Would you prefer they have a big, fake number to show or would you rather they have real followers with whom they interact and build relationships?
Companies like Snickers and Kia Motors capitalized on JC Penney’s tweets to promote their own brands and services. Snickers offered a snack, using their slogan “You’re not you when you’re hungry,” and Kia Motors offered their services as a designated driver.
When discussing US Airway’s recent twitter flub with my own twitter followers, someone used the “any publicity is good publicity” line. Yes, US Airways certainly got worldwide attention, but was it good publicity? To the dismay of the airline, the inappropriate photo didn’t encourage the masses to run to ticket counters to buy flights. However, the airline is in a fortunate position because air travel has become a necessity in the modern age, and it is unlikely this PR nightmare will seriously damage sales. People still need to travel, and will stick with their loyalty reward programs and cheapest flight options. However, what if there were partners or sponsors involved? We all saw the sponsor backlash of the Tiger Woods infidelity scandal of 2009, and his career, image and sponsor relations haven’t been the same since.
This isn’t to say all publicity stunts are bad. For companies or brands no one has heard of, a little awareness can be a good thing. However, be wary of creating awareness that sends people away from your brand either in the present day, or in the future.
The quality of your brand should be something you hold in the highest regard. Don’t just ask for attention, demand the best kind. Look for long term results, not a quick fix in the spot light. Create the kind of genuine image that makes the public want to be associated with you, not stand around to watch developing carnage. If you don’t treat your own brand as something of real value, why should anyone else?