Is There Really Bad Press?

With today’s fast-moving news cycles and a forgiving (or forgetful) public, some wonder if there really is such a thing as bad publicity. Michael Vick’s $100 million contract showed that you can recover from a storm of bad stories, not to mention PETA protests and prison time.

Some even believe that a dose of bad press can be good for you.  A 2010 study by Wharton School and Stanford University researchers attempted to show that negative reviews can increase sales for products that are not well known. Obviously, positive publicity is best, as evidenced by a study of book sales. A new author gets a 52% boost from a positive review and an established author sees a 32% spike. The study argued that a negative New York Times book review will cost a well-established author a 15% decline in book sales. A new writer, on the other hand, gets a 45% boost from a negative Times review. Say what you want about me, just spell my name right.

But some bad publicity  is much more damaging than a negative book review. Tiger Woods knows the sting of media scrutiny. His sex scandal reportedly cost hundreds of millions in a divorce settlement, lucrative endorsements and (for now) his mojo on the course. For Anthony Weiner, it cost him his seat in Congress.

In an ironic case of bad press causing your undoing, News of the World closed its doors because of the fallout from the British tabloid’s phone hacking scandal.  Jobs were lost, journalists arrested and Rupert Murdoch likely lost his shot at owning the potentially lucrative Sky TV.

Yes, there is negative publicity.

But not all bad press is terminal. Beyond the example of new authors, there’s former New York governor and current CNN host Eliot Spitzer.  And BP.

Earlier this year, BP admitted its damaged reputation from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill cost it valuable business opportunities. The historic disaster was made worse by poor communications strategy that initially tried to undersell the obvious damage. It suffered a quarterly loss of $17.2 billion following the spill and $3.7 billion for the full year.  But even 4.9 million barrels of crude oil in the Gulf is not a death sentence for a company. BP announced a second quarter profit of $5.6 billion in July.

If a crisis hits, smart people first fix the problem that landed them – unflatteringly – on page one and then peel back the curtain for media and public scrutiny.  Beyond the mea culpa must be substance. They know there  is another story Americans love almost as much as the scandal. It’s the reclamation. But it has to be real.

It remains to be seen as to whether Vick has been sincere. But to date he has been open and apologetic in admitting his transgressions. Tiger has been the same aloof, some would say arrogant, person he was before he got caught. Not only did Vick sign a contract, he’s getting endorsement deals and, for most, his crime was far more heinous. Tiger, on the other hand, has only added one endorsement deal – in China – and he continues to lose them.

Einstein said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a sign of insanity. It’s also a recipe for continued bad press. Even a struggling author knows good press is better than bad.

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