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There’s no such thing as bad publicity… Really?

Article by Jacqueline Arnold @ TwentyTwo13 (20 February 2024)


This week, a new acquaintance asked me why I do what I do; that is to say, why was I a public relations (PR) consultant, as opposed to an in-house position.


There are a couple of reasons; mainly it’s to do with the fact that I have an opinion about right and wrong, and I’m never afraid to share it.


That’s a career-killer if you’re in an in-house role. Also, I like the freedom and independence to be able to choose who we take on as clients. Ethics is the foundation that our consultancy is built on.


We’ve all seen the power of PR. We’ve also seen it misused (that’s called “spin”).


I’m an advocate for PR as a tool to build and enhance a brand or image/reputation. I believe PR is the conscience of an organisation and must always have an element of long-term community engagement, and lend support, or even take the lead, for worthy causes.


The 19th century circus owner, Phineas T. Barnum, is credited with saying, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”.


I’m not of that school of thought. And the reason I’m talking about this subject is because I was triggered by the news of a train ride in the city by the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, and his family, recently.


Several photos of Ahmad Zahid’s train ride, including the one in the main image, were posted on his social media account. The photos also showed the deputy prime minister’s family being given special treatment.


They were escorted throughout the entire journey and even had a coach in the front, all to themselves. The public obviously had a field day with this. Lots of negative comments.


If the deputy prime minister was my client, my advice would have been, “Sir, if you want to ride the train, do it the way Malaysians do it. No special treatment. Mix and mingle with the rakyat jelata (people). They will praise you and love you for it”.


In addition to demonstrating alignment with the Madani government concept, the PR value would be enormous.


To the train concessionaire, my advice would have been: “Sometimes, it’s better not to post. This is one such time.”


Not all publicity is good publicity. This is a classic case of a PR stunt gone wrong.


The backlash on social media is bad. It makes the deputy prime minister appear tone deaf, and is counterproductive to the goal he wanted to achieve. This is what happens when PR is reduced to stunts.


My advice to everyone out there: corporates, corporate leaders, NGOs, influencers, politicians, basically anyone in the public eye: PR is strategic, not gimmicky.


PR must have substance, and most importantly, you have to walk the talk. Words without matching actions are meaningless. Words with contradictory actions have negative value.


And for those who subscribe to P.T. Barnum’s school of thought, do remember that he ran a circus.

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