The Impact of Negative Public Relations (part 2)

Apr 13th, 2010 | By | Category: Featured Articles, Public relations

negative public relations 2When things are going well, executives tend to place public relations efforts as less important than other marketing activities. When a brand name is successful, the marketing machine is working well and the promotional activities are translating into real-term sales. Everyone is happy. What happens though when things start to go badly?
How does management react?

Too often, management looks at operational or financial problems in isolation, without considering communications channels. Even in large successful organizations, it is easy to overlook the need to communicate adequately with one’s stakeholders (all those with interests in the organization). And surprisingly this happens more often than one would expect…

Trying to explain what PR is, is probably easiest when one can bring examples from the real world of the effects of bad public relations. Two classic cases of bad PR efforts have made media headlines of late. The first being the Toyota Crisis and the second is Tiger Woods. Toyota enjoyed a “pristine reputation” as one columnist commented. It was one of those successful brands. With 11% of the market share, Toyota cars were “trusted, reliable cars”. I, myself, even own a Toyota. The Toyota lessons, like that of Johnson and Johnson’s Tylenol crisis and Exxon’s oil spill, will be taught to PR students for many years to come. It is one of those cases that PR students learn as a starting point for all future “crisis communications” plans.

Crisis communications experts point out Toyota’s mistakes. They failed to act swiftly enough. They started by blaming the customers. They were not proactive in acknowledging and correcting problems immediately. Had they done so, they may have saved themselves millions of dollars, and kept their reputation in tact. They, unfortunately, waited for outside forces (the U.S. Department of Transportation) before taking action.

Tiger Woods is another classic case of the effects of bad public relations. An unprecedented athlete with an aura of “invincibility”, the Woods brand sold everything from golf equipment, to cars, watches and more. “Tiger Woods” was a big business, until an early morning car accident put that “invincibility” to the test. It placed the stability of his marriage in the limelight and put a question on his credibility. Now his winning brand is still in doubt, with sponsors like Gillette, AT&T and Accenture having dropped their support.

It is by far, more preferable to be proactive in one’s public relations efforts than learning the hard way. As a study at the Auburn University revealed – when one’s reputation is tarnished, trust is reduced and support is decreased. An injured reputation can take many months if not years to heal, as Toyota and Woods are bound to find out.

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