Amith Prabhu: Public Relations and Bad Publicity

18 Nov,2013

By Amith Prabhu


Most people who are aware of the term Public Relations or PR thrive on abusing it. Any customer experience that does not go right is called Bad PR. Any misreporting that takes place in a media outlet is called Bad PR.


PR can never be bad. Because PR works like medicine and it can never be bad. Wrong diagnosis can always happen but that does not make the medicine bad. To understand that better, one needs to understand that PR is not the same as publicity. PR can lead to publicity but publicity is never PR.


Why is it then that we often hear this: Bad PR or Good PR – any PR is good? We hear that because people making that claim do not understand the concept of PR and make sweeping statements like that because they interchange Publicity with Public Relations (which are as similar as chalk and cheese).


Hence PR revolves around offering experiences, strengthening relationships, building credibility and creating advocacy. None of these are about publicity. Educating the 99 percent who are not in PR will go a long way but the process should start somewhere and it is up to us PR professionals to drill down this idea when we see someone interchange the two terms.


I always say there is Bad Publicity and Public Relations – a PR campaign can be good or bad but that is a different concept from the term Public Relations. A campaign can be bad because somewhere between concept and execution some errors were made. This can be debated and I hope people who disagree engage in a discussion in the comments section here.


An instant example that comes to mind is the recent news about a Dreamliner that Air India flies losing a panel in flight and how the following day social networks were abuzz about how Air India is best avoided. That was bad publicity. Somewhere the makers of the Dreamliner – the Boeing Company had its Public Relations in place. A reporter did not focus on it in his/her report but on Air India which has never taken Public Relations seriously in recent years.


Well, this will be a recurring topic and it is important to not use Bad PR for our own sake. Because poison and medicine are different. One man’s medicine can be another man’s poison but the fact remains that they are different.


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