We’ve all heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” But when is bad publicity really bad and when is it good?
Really, not all drama surrounding a company, brand or celebrity is bad.
When bad publicity can be good
Take Sen. Al Franken’s book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right,” for example. In 2003, Fox News filed a lawsuit saying the book’s use of its trademarked “fair and balanced” tagline would “cause confusion among consumers as to the origin and sponsorship of the book.” You would think a lawsuit = bad, right?
Recently in an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Franken explained how the lawsuit brought a lot of press coverage and the book became a #1 New York Times Bestseller. Incidentally, Franken won the lawsuit too. In this case, Franken came out the winner from what was initially bad publicity.
When bad publicity is just bad
Fast forward 14 years to the recent controversial photo and video of comedian Kathy Griffin holding a fake severed and bloody head bearing the likeness of President Donald Trump. Is this a case of bad publicity truly being bad publicity? We’ll go with YES!
According to Time, Griffin initially described the photo shoot as an “artsy-fartsy statement” mocking Trump. But the bipartisan backlash she received on social media was monumental. Her publicity stunt was so offensive to so many that she issued a video apology saying she had “gone way too far.” The apology was too little, too late. CNN dropped her from her co-hosting duties for its New Year’s Eve special and Squatty Potty dumped her from their deal as well.
PR lessons learned
Griffin’s story is an example of not just bad publicity, but it is also a self-induced crisis and a publicist’s nightmare.
The video apology on Twitter within less than 24 hours of posting the offending photos and video was important. It showed some immediacy and sincerity. But the decapitation imagery cuts so deep with the American public, Griffin will be digging out of this hole for some time.
What else could Griffin do to get past this?
- She should apologize directly to President Trump and his family. While the photo and video was offensive to the general public, it was also very personal to the Trump family. Taking the apology directly to them is essential.
- Try to push down the bad news with positive news. But with sponsors and partnerships drying up, this could be difficult.
- Maybe it’s time for Griffin to step out of the public eye for a while, a la Taylor Swift and Anne Hathaway. While they didn’t do anything like Griffin, their over-exposure made them a target and they started losing their fanbase. Griffin could take a break and later come back with an exclusive one-on-one interview in a year or two reflecting on this mistake and detailing what she has learned from it.
Overall, most bad publicity is something a brand can get past with careful and decisive action. But when something like Griffin’s stunt comes along, there are only a limited number of actions to help save a person (or brand) from themselves.