Why Are PR Firms SO Afraid of Bad Press?

Why Are PR Firms SO Afraid of Bad Press?

At first glance, this is an easy question to answer. PR people are afraid of bad press because it makes their clients look bad. Bad press can then, in turn, make PR firms look bad. They might even, GASP!, lose a client, or at the very least field a very nasty phone call. Reading this story about Alison Brod PR, I was struck by the arrogance her firm exhibited in dealing with negative commentary from a reporter. It is episodes like this, which I know to occur dozens of times a day that makes me less interested with the clubby world of Fashion and Lifestyle PR as it stands now. Here for a few reasons:

  1. There is already enough drama in my life.
  2. I think overall the world of boutique Fashion publicists is way over-rated and is ripe for disruption
  3. They don’t do good work
  4. They generally have little concern other than the bottom line
  5. They are horrible at social media, and therefore, authentic outreach
  6. And finally, they wouldn’t have me anyway! HA!

But why must these firms be SO afraid of a little (or a lot) of bad press? It cannot just be the loss of clients and the momentary tarnish of public perception. That stuff never lasts. Soon enough another scandal or story will come along and it will be like your story never even happened. And if they don’t know this lesson then they shouldn’t be in communications.

So What Is It?

These firms don’t believe in themselves. What they believe in is the idea of their firm and its place as an essential cog in their industry. What they believe in is the idea that their ability and authority enables them to do things that no one else can do. In many ways these PR firms operate on mystique and aura. The moment that mystique is fractured, the moment the curtain of glamor is pulled back to reveal an exoskeleton of vanity, their authority, both inside the industry and out, is over.

Perception may have been reality for a long long time. The entire marketing/ advertising/ branding complex was built on this premise. If people perceive you to be exclusive, then you are exclusive. How much time and effort was put into shrouding products, brands, services that could have been open.  Restricting them. Making them seem scarce. What is true for the industry at large is true for the firms that make up a part of that industry.

Why do I care about this then?

Because in my quest to build something new, to improve upon and disrupt what I see as a vainglorious and calcified industry, and one that doesn’t want to give up the control they’ve had for a few generations, I need to understand the mistakes of my forebears. You better believe I am gunning for this business. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but one day in the not too distant future I’ll get my hands on a juicy client and blow these people apart.

Why? How about I tell you why not!

  • Not because I have the best relationships with journalists
  • Not because I go to the trendiest night spots
  • or pick up the most drink tabs
  • or do the most favors
  • or hang out in the right Hampton
  • or go to ten charity events a week
  • or pretend I am bigger than I am
  • or drop names
  • or believe that I am any more special or entitled to client business
  • or good treatment in the press or on blogs

There is tremendous tension in the PR field right now. The smart firms are trying to change, and yet running up against a very hard truth. That perception is no longer reality. Reality is reality. You can’t hide the truth, you can’t shroud it. You can’t make something seem exclusive and luxurious and just out of reach. When average ordinary citizens and consumers can, and do, have a personal connection to the brands they love, the good, the bad and the ugly is going to come out.

What about those not so smart PR firms? Well do I need to spell it out for ya?


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