Is All Publicity Good Publicity?

This is one of the great adages of all time – and arguably the mantra of many a D-grade celebrity dreaming up their 15 minutes of fame. But is it always true?

I love a controversial topic and this is definitely one of them. And it is most certainly not one that has a definitive and absolute answer because everyone in the industry has a number of examples that prove their point either way.

So, in order to answer the posed question, I need to first attempt to explain what I mean by the question. Publicity is by definition, information that concerns a person, group, event, or product and that is disseminated through various media to attract public notice. The emphasis, therefore, of this definition is on “attracting public notice.”

Why Attract Public Notice?

Now, it goes without saying that everyone has a different reason for attracting public notice. Certainly, most of my clients (and the clients of other public relation agencies) attract public notice for themselves, their product or service to make more sales. After all, if nobody knows you are there, how can you expect them to buy from you?

Businesses and individuals go about solving this problem (being unknown) by advertising and otherwise promoting the advantages of their product and service to their target audience, focusing on how it will solve their perceived problems and generally make them happier, more youthful, stronger, better looking, etc. If their target audience is convinced of the fact, then they will assumedly buy the product/service and become a regular customer.

Bearing this ideal scenario in mind, it makes sense that everything a current or potential customer should learn about a company they intend to purchase from should be favorable, right?

If you discovered that the product was not quality or the company was involved in unethical business practice, chances are that this would influence your decision to purchase from them. Depending on the severity of the discovery, and your personal opinion about what a quality product or service is, and what constitutes unethical or unacceptable behavior, you may choose not to buy from them for some time in the immediate future.

Obviously, the factors that influence buying behavior differs from one individual to another, but most diligent companies, having done their market research, will have an idea what information they will not want their target audience privy to. Sure, we all have skeletons in our closet, but most large companies and brands are looking for their customers to think the world of them.

For example, I can guarantee that most airlines will experience technical faults on their airplanes at some point or another, as is the nature of anything mechanical, but they don’t necessarily want their audience to know about every single loose screw, even if it is perfectly normal. They would rather focus on the way their seats transform into completely flat beds in first class, when it comes to topics to promote about their airline.

And don’t forget, publicity includes articles in the media including newspapers, radio and TV, word of mouth, on forums and social media online, blogs, etc.

Therefore, in the case of most companies and brands, the answer to the question “is all publicity good publicity” would be a resounding no. Too much publicity about foreign objects found in burgers, faulty engines causing emergency landings and unreasonable fee increases would certainly impact public perception about a company’s reputation and affect their willingness to part with their cash.

Exceptions To The Rule

In some cases, most or even all publicity is good publicity. The publicity may be of a less than favorable nature, but the results may end up being positive for the individual or business.

When is this the case? There are some specific examples I have identified below:

  • The expectations by the target audience toward the business/individual.

    For example, when the fans of a rock group or performer hear about their “idol” making comments that are derogatory towards a public issue or debate. Obviously, it really depends on the severity of the comment or the topic itself. For example, Eminem mouthing off occasionally about his ex or rival is expected by his fans, whereas allegations about Chris Brown’s treatment toward Rhiannon no doubt lost him quite a few fans.

    Another example is that “leaked” sex tapes including Pamela Anderson or Paris Hilton affected their public reputation very little (in a negative way), whereas Bill Clinton’s escapades would have most definitely lost him quite a few votes and arguably even his seat in office. It is acceptable for celebrities to act in a manner that is outside of the social norm (occasionally) but definitely not for a Politician.

  • If you are not known at all, provided not all the attention is negative.

    If you don’t have any reputation or publicity as yet, sometimes a little bit of debatable publicity will put you on the media and/or public agenda, and they will be more open to information from you in the future. Obviously, the extent and amount of negative publicity is entirely dependent on your business and audience.

  • If the nature of your business is such that it attracts a lot of (often dubious) attention anyway, and your audience knows and expects this.

    We all know not to believe everything we read in gossip magazines, and even big reputable brands like Coca-Cola will attract some negative publicity from time to time.

So, while there is no definitive answer to the question, here are some pointers to keep in mind when trying to get what is hopefully more than just 15 minutes of fame:

  • Publicity stunts can be really fun and serve to get attention in a crowded and noisy world, but be sure that any stunt and expected/possible outcomes are suited to your audience and what you would ideally like your reputation to be.
  • Don’t ever let the negatives outweigh the positives, particularly if you are trying to place yourself in a position of authority.
  • The best publicity is well-planned and thought-out. Don’t be sloppy with any publicity you can control. Be in charge – it’s your reputation after all.
  • Don’t just focus on one means of publicity – consider it all. Traditional (TV, newspapers, magazines, radio), word of mouth, blogs, social media – it’s all equally important.

Click here to read part two of this series.

Kerry McDuling

About Kerry McDuling

Kerry McDuling is a publicist and Director of her own public relations and publicity consultancy McDuling PR and exposure speciality business, Stratosphere Me – building brands and developing profitable business opportunities for companies, authors, speakers, and entrepreneurs.

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  • Hi Kerry!

    I enjoyed your article, and it came at the right time.

    Recently I wrote an article ” Top 8 Body Parts Men Like About Women.” Yesterday I pulled a stunt, I ask a question on a love forum I subscribe to about what are the Top 10 Body Parts Women Like About Men (my next article) Within 15 minutes I got 10 replies. My stats went up that day, I gained new friends, and I acquired new information for my article.

    The point is, I tried a new way of receiving recognition, a form of advertising.I asked a question rather then my normal routine of given advice, and it worked.

    I guess it goes along the lines of communication. Communication isn’t just about one person talking and the other person listening.

    Thanks, Tony

  • Hi Kerry,

    Publicity works when you get people to repeat (or do) what you want them to say about your product. Essentially, you’re putting works into their mouth and… encouraging them to spread the message.


    • Pam in Florida

      I used to agree…until Verizon started running that horrendous ad with two women sobbing because the daughter is moving away a short distance, Bring up the ad in a group and EVERYONE will cringe in disgust! Most will say they IMMEDIATEY switch the channel and are therefore unaware WHOSE commercial it is…and NEVER want to see it again!
      I figured women would be the biggest haters (because of the sickenly emotional sterotyping) but I was surprised to see that men are equally repulsed by the ad.

  • You had very good points. I never thought the pam sextape vs clinton sexscandal that way, you were so true. I wouldnt like to be a celebrity myself, because i enjoy having a privatelife.

  • I do agree that all publicity is good publicity depending on what business you have. If you are in the food industry then I think that it is bad if for example someone gets food poisoning from you food.

  • Interesting example of this is the recent “end of the world” campaign. The guy apparently had a failed prediction in 1994 but no shortage of followers or believers for his recent prediction. I imagine he’ll still have a solid group of followers for Oct 11.

    If the public doesn’t know you exist they will never even get to make a choice on how they perceive you. With controversy there is usually always a split in public opinion.

  • Awesome! I find your post very interesting. It could really help me a lot. Thanks for sharing some insights.

  • I’m not of the mindset that any publicity is good publicity. It’s one thing to purposefully bring attention to yourself, or your product for marketing reasons but another to do “crazy” things just to get attention.

    • There are many ways to get public attention… but we have to admit that most people are more interested with bad publicity especially if you are a public figure.

  • I believe the Bill Clinton example is actually wrong. His popularity actually increased after the incident (he had to survive an impeachment attempt but then his rating went up) – and the only reason he didn’t stand again is because he had served his full two terms in office, 3 is not allowed.

    Bad publicity is only ever good when you are in a position. or have the means and resources to be heard when you react to it in a positive way.

    Back to Clinton, his wife stood by him, he said sorry and the country (and perhaps world) forgave him. He is a great example of how bad publicity can be turned around. Smaller firms do not have that luxury, so for them it is always bad to have bad publciity.

    • Hi Dee,

      Not sure I see it like this. His ratings went up in the short term but it damaged his credibility in the long run & made a fool of the white house staff. Not a good thing 🙁


  • Negative publicity, from the adjective itself can be bad for a company. But sometimes we can also use it to highlight the positive side of a business.

  • I think 90% of any publicity is good i mean just look at Jordan in the UK, i hope the U.S. people are saying whos that right now 🙂

  • I find it interesting how different forms of publicity that are bad result in a different consequence. Almost like it is a social bias if you will. Like you mentioned about President Bill Clinton that definitely hurt him and he lost quite a few votes in the eye of the public. While other celebs like Britney Spears can be all over the press for a couple of years with crazy things happening to her, and she is still able to crack out top selling albums. I like that word I just created… Social Bias. I think thats what it is at times.

    Till then,


  • Of course, you would want positive and constructive publicity. Who would want otherwise?????

  • Yes positive publicity is the best, but it all helps to get your business known and heard especially is you can turn the bad publicity around.

  • […] There is such a thing as ineffective publicity, though. Businesses want to avoid this at all costs. Ineffective publicity is when your business is mentioned in an article or story but there is no link or additional information to encourage readers to go to your site or social media site. […]

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