Tuesday, September 1, 2009
When The Best Intentions Create Bad Public Relations
Public Relations: Communication by a person or an organization with the purpose of creating a favorable public image
We've all heard that "friends don't let friends drive drunk." But should friends (who work in advertising and PR) let friends do their own public relations? Perhaps I'm not objective here but, two examples of bad PR of some friends' own making have me wondering....
We have some friends who own a specialty shop (their true product is being left vague to protect the innocent). They began their business renting their product out to parties, receptions, etc. When they first opened their retail shop, they admitted they did so as an experiment. Though immediately successful they closed up shop after nine months to move to a larger, more visible location with no notice and no explanation and didn't get open in the new space until three months later. This, of course, killed all their momentum, and left a good number of customers thinking they had closed. A bad PR move that meant they effectively had to start their marketing efforts from scratch when they reopened and requiring the dilution of their marketing message to win back those customers who had forgotten about them, thinking they'd closed.
More recently, an article appeared in the local newspaper's business section noting how my friends' were planning to open a location in Oklahoma City's Bricktown entertainment district. However the article was more about how the owners had stopped communicating with the writer and thus cast my friends and their business in a poor light. (That said, the article was pointless other than to say "these people stopped calling me back" and imply something's fishy since they aren't talking. Perhaps the writer's ego was bruised, but his article presented nothing of value other than to say that one local business stopped talking to him about a move they were considering.) When I asked one of my friends about her lack of response, she said they were still working out a lease and didn't want say or do anything publicly that would affect their negotiations nor did she want to say anything about a new store that wasn't a done deal. So instead, by saying nothing and apparently getting a local business writer in a snit, she let her message get out of her control and that created the business section story that cast their business and their motives in a bad light. The whole thing could have been headed off had she just spoken to the writer and told him what she told me.
I have another friend who owns a small, local performance hall and brings in some decent acts. To help promote his venue, he sends an email to people who have signed up on his list. This is a great way to market on the web, in that you're marketing to a receptive audience who is seeking your information while you control your message and how it is disseminated. The problem here? This friend also uses his email to point out poorly attended shows, air his political views, and to occasionally rail against his competition and even city zoning and code enforcement officials.
That is all well and good, except for the fact that, in this age of red state/blue state politics, airing your views and railing against those who don't share them is a sure-fire way to alienate at least half of your audience (especially in Oklahoma!). In addition, pointing out that a given show was poorly attended won't compel someone to come to another show, but will only validate their decision to not attend in the first place. ("An enthusiastic crowd saw a great show" paints a much brighter picture than "The 20 or so people who bothered to show up saw a great show.")
Both of my friends' examples violate rule number one of public relations: accentuate the positive!
So consider the messages your business sends out. Does your business have a positive public image? If not, remember that you have the power to change that. But, as the above stories have shown and to roughly paraphrase so many mothers and grandmothers, if you don't have anything positive to say, don't say anything at all.
Or, in other words, if you're going to relate publicly, remember to relate positively!