A PR lesson from Pirates of the Caribbean

Quote:

Norrington: You are without doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.
Jack Sparrow: But you have heard of me.

This quote from Pirates of the Caribbean got me thinking about the phrases “all publicity is good publicity” or “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” We’ve seen and heard these phrases everywhere, especially if you are in PR.

The thing is… I don’t necessarily agree with this. Is it a good thing that people know who you are? It honestly depends. A few well-known examples:

1. Bill Clinton – While, in my opinion, he was a pretty good President if you look at all his accomplishments with cutting $600 billion from our outstanding deficit, with creating jobs, with banning weapons and more, he will always be remembered for that one thing, not his accomplishments.

Not the best thing to be remembered for, at all. Even though everyone already knew our President, is it a good thing to have people across the world talking about you? Is that good publicity? I don’t think Bill Clinton likes to be remembered for his adultery over his presidency.

To this day, if you Google “Bill Clinton” this is what comes up:


2. Dominos viral crisis – When two Dominos employees who worked at the Conover, N.C.  restaurant decided to post a video on YouTube of them “preparing sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose, nasal mucus on the sandwiches, and violating other health-code standards while a fellow employee provided narration” [quote via NY Times article].

Absolutely disgusting. Within two days, the video had over 1 million views. What did this crisis cost Dominos? Over $50 million in sales over the next few months when this restaurant shut down and when they lost thousands of loyal customers. HCD Research found 65% of respondents who would previously visit or order Domino’s Pizza were less likely to do so after viewing the offending video.

My favorite part of the NY Times article:

The Domino’s experience “is a nightmare,” said Paul Gallagher, managing director and a head of the United States crisis practice at the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. “It’s the toughest situation for a company to face in terms of a digital crisis.”

Click image for original location.

Which brings me to:

3. Burson- Marsteller and Facebook crisis.

Some people still don’t think this was a crisis, but when half of the online community is talking about how terrible it was of both of these companies to participate in this kind of unethical behavior, I think you have a serious problem.

Again, everyone knows Facebook and people really looked up to Burson-Marsteller as a PR firm. All publicity is not good publicity. Did Facebook see an effect from this smear campaign? Well, not really: Facebook Smear Campaign Has No Lasting Effect on Facebook or Google [STATS] via Mashable, but this doesn’t change people’s already growing suspicion of Facebook and its ethical practices.

Click image for original location.

So, is any publicity good publicity?

I really don’t think so. Like I said above, it does get your name out there, but not in a good way and not in a positive lasting way. We study “crisis communication” for a reason. A good crisis can really destroy a company and leave a bad taste in your mouth [see BP].

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Related Posts:

Any Publicity is Good Publicity in Social Media, Right? via Paul Dunay

Any publicity is not good publicity, but it doesn’t have to be bad via Fever Bee

8 thoughts on “A PR lesson from Pirates of the Caribbean

  1. This is always a debatable topic! Certainly, like most things, the answer here is a bit situational. Certainly, you would prefer positive PR, but, sometimes, a little negative PR does not hurt… but, where should the line be drawn? Of course, the line is different for various professionals, etc.

    Let’s assume, however, that you are approaching this from the corporate standpoint. Inevitably, there will be both bad and good PR. That is where a corporate blog (with adequate and full transparency) comes in handy. Of course, the time to start reaching out and engaging the customers is not when the crap hits the fan; no, it is well before that. Building that relationship early on allows for early detection of bad PR and for more opportunities to share your organization’s side of the story… and to answer concerns!

    1. Dwayne,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! It is certainly a topic that is always up in the air. I don’t think there’s any absolutely line, but it does vary for different people.

      I SO agree that the time to reach out and prepare for a crisis is NOT during the crisis. Companies and brands should reach out before the crisis/problem to already have relationships with people.

      -Lauren

  2. This is always a debatable topic! Certainly, like most things, the answer here is a bit situational. Certainly, you would prefer positive PR, but, sometimes, a little negative PR does not hurt… but, where should the line be drawn? Of course, the line is different for various professionals, etc.
    Let’s assume, however, that you are approaching this from the corporate standpoint. Inevitably, there will be both bad and good PR. That is where a corporate blog (with adequate and full transparency) comes in handy. Of course, the time to start reaching out and engaging the customers is not when the crap hits the fan; no, it is well before that. Building that relationship early on allows for early detection of bad PR and for more opportunities to share your organization’s side of the story… and to answer concerns!

    1. Dwayne,
      Thanks for reading and commenting! It is certainly a topic that is always up in the air. I don’t think there’s any absolutely line, but it does vary for different people.
      I SO agree that the time to reach out and prepare for a crisis is NOT during the crisis. Companies and brands should reach out before the crisis/problem to already have relationships with people.
      -Lauren

  3. “All publicity is good publicity” is, of course, attributed to PT Barnum and, I think, is often taken out of context. I encourage all PR pros to read about Barnum and how he actually worked with media. He is known as the “Father of Publicity” for a reason.

    It is true that he perpetrated many hoaxes (Feejee Mermaid, Tom Thumb, etc), but he always owned up them as hoaxes (eventually).

    The famous quote simply refers to turning the mundane and commonplace into something newsworthy. It doesnt refer to (in my opinion) taking advantage of crises to further business goals.

    A famous example that I remember (from a class at Western) was a story about when he hired a man to go around a museum he was promoting with the same four bricks every day and place them in the exact same spots. The man was told to answer no questions or acknowledge anyone around him. He drew a crowd (and subsequent media attention) so large that the police had to intervene and disperse it. The publicity talked about the huge crowds at the museum, which, in turn, drew even larger crowds.

    We see this same concept in practice almost every day in our industry. An Ipod give away at a tradeshow booth (or the use of spokesmodels), sponsorships, tweets about what your CEO is watching on television tonight – Im not saying these are the most effective tools in our industry, but they do still have a place. They have, of course, diminished considerably in effectiveness since Barnum’s day due to the increased media “noise” we deal with in the modern age.

    I know this response is a little off of your original topic, but Barnum’s career is something I actually like to read/talk about.

    To the original point (quote not withstanding), the take away (from my POV) is simple – ethical PR people do not advocate or encourage the explotation of negative events for personal or corporate gain. In addition to being extremely sleezly, it will come back to bite you in the rear. Media are not idiots. They can see through these kinds of things and it only takes one article to set off a huge storm of negative repercussions.

    1. Hi Mike!

      I’m glad you told me about PT Barnum, I really didn’t know that much about him before and it’s something I would like to look more into.

      I definitely agree with your last point that we should always remain ethical in PR and not advocate or encourage coverage of negative events. As we saw with Facebook & Burson-Marsteller, that was just not a good idea!

      -Lauren

  4. “All publicity is good publicity” is, of course, attributed to PT Barnum and, I think, is often taken out of context. I encourage all PR pros to read about Barnum and how he actually worked with media. He is known as the “Father of Publicity” for a reason.
    It is true that he perpetrated many hoaxes (Feejee Mermaid, Tom Thumb, etc), but he always owned up them as hoaxes (eventually).
    The famous quote simply refers to turning the mundane and commonplace into something newsworthy. It doesnt refer to (in my opinion) taking advantage of crises to further business goals.
    A famous example that I remember (from a class at Western) was a story about when he hired a man to go around a museum he was promoting with the same four bricks every day and place them in the exact same spots. The man was told to answer no questions or acknowledge anyone around him. He drew a crowd (and subsequent media attention) so large that the police had to intervene and disperse it. The publicity talked about the huge crowds at the museum, which, in turn, drew even larger crowds.
    We see this same concept in practice almost every day in our industry. An Ipod give away at a tradeshow booth (or the use of spokesmodels), sponsorships, tweets about what your CEO is watching on television tonight – Im not saying these are the most effective tools in our industry, but they do still have a place. They have, of course, diminished considerably in effectiveness since Barnum’s day due to the increased media “noise” we deal with in the modern age.
    I know this response is a little off of your original topic, but Barnum’s career is something I actually like to read/talk about.
    To the original point (quote not withstanding), the take away (from my POV) is simple – ethical PR people do not advocate or encourage the explotation of negative events for personal or corporate gain. In addition to being extremely sleezly, it will come back to bite you in the rear. Media are not idiots. They can see through these kinds of things and it only takes one article to set off a huge storm of negative repercussions.

    1. Hi Mike!
      I’m glad you told me about PT Barnum, I really didn’t know that much about him before and it’s something I would like to look more into.
      I definitely agree with your last point that we should always remain ethical in PR and not advocate or encourage coverage of negative events. As we saw with Facebook & Burson-Marsteller, that was just not a good idea!
      -Lauren

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