Sometimes you don’t want to be (in) the news

Clients sometimes tell me that they want a PR agency because they think it will help their company, their brand or their product to become more widely known and liked.

While this is true in many cases, I also tell them there are times when it’s better to lie low and not be the centre of public attention.

Consider what’s currently happening in the Canadian Senate and the impact on Senators’ reputation, to the PM’s reputation and to Canada’s brand. Each day brings new news about expense irregularities that is arguably not great news for any one of them.

President Obama probably feels the same way about the news that thousands of Americans are having trouble gaining access to the website that is supposed to be making health care easier, not more difficult, to access.

So, next to being found guilty — or being perceived as guilty — of a criminal offence, a lie, shoddy business practices, defective products or bad customer service, when do you not want to be in the news?

It’s pretty simple. You really don’t want to be in the news when your credibility is in question, unless you have incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. And if you do, then by all means, argue forcefully to protect your reputation. Always remember that by the time you’re in the news for whatever act or statement has offended public opinion and brought you to the media’s attention, it can be very difficult to repair the damage.

There was a time when most people knew what doing ‘the honorable thing’ meant. And when it looked like they were getting too close to losing credibility or jeopardizing their brand equity, they knew instinctively that being in the public spotlight was no longer a good thing. They knew when it was time to apologize, when to extend an olive branch, and when to retreat and fall on their sword.

Warren Buffet famously said it takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it. Next time you’re wondering about whether you want more, or less, publicity for your company or brand, let these wise words be your guide.