The answer to this question is greatly dependent on how the bad publicity causes customers to react. If the publicity exposes wrongdoings and causes customers to boycott your company, obviously that is bad. However, if it causes customers to be sympathetic or opens your company to a new, previously unknown audience, then the publicity could be seen as good.
The textbook case study for this is McNeil Consumer Healthcare. The Johnson & Johnson subsidiary found itself in the center of a PR crisis in 1982 when seven people died after ingesting Extra Strength Tylenol that had been contaminated with cyanide. As a result, the company issued a nationwide recall and launched a two-part PR campaign that focused first on the safety of its consumers and secondarily on its comeback. Because of its socially responsible reaction, the company was praised by the media and Tylenol remains a top seller today.
On the other hand, take the example of Gilbert Gottfried. The actor/comedian ended up in the spotlight this year when he made jokes via Twitter about the devastating earthquake in Japan. Despite deleting his tweet and apologizing, Gottfried lost his decade-long gig as the voice of Aflac’s duck mascot.
And then there’s the example of Bill Gates. When Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen wrote a tell-all book sharing a less-than-flattering view of Gates, the publicity could have hurt his humanitarian image. But, as you may have noticed, Gates’ image seems to be doing just fine.
For B2B companies, it is important to assess the situation and determine whether a PR response will do more harm than good. Then, if it is appropriate to respond, do so in a way that is sensitive to your customers’ needs first, and your business’ image will reflect those actions.
Has your company or client ever faced bad publicity? We’d love to hear in the comments below how you responded and what the result was.