Sunday, July 21, 2024

Why you should not always be DeadHappy with publicity: by Greg Simpson, founder of Press for Attention PR

Greg Simpson, founder of Press for Attention PR, explains how there is such thing as bad publicity.

So, it’s happened again…. “There’s no such thing as bad publicity Greg” – someone said to me at a conference I was speaking at yesterday.

It was a room full of just under 400 business owners and I was there to lift the lid on the dark arts of PR. I was fielding a question about what to do in a PR crisis, which to me, starts way before the crisis occurs. Like, before you start any external communications at all. Get your ducks in a row before any detritus starts hitting any rotating blades.

Anyway, as I was explaining how to begin this process, a chap at the back cheerfully yelled out the old cliche. I laughed along as the room nodded sagely that they felt this to be true until I pointed out something very stark: “I promise each and every one of you in this room right now that I can make you famous before 5pm today. Just come and see me at the break and we will have a little chat and Robert’s your father’s brother. In fact, I won’t even charge you for it.”

Now, as you might imagine, this set of a ripple of excitement through the room. Not only was I GUARANTEEING them fame, I wasn’t even seeking a fortune for this game changing moment.

I let the dust settle before quietly adding a caveat: “Of course, I didn’t say WHAT I was going to make you famous FOR or HOW.”

That’s the crux of the problem with this old cliche. Gerald Ratner is famous for calling his own products and stores cr*p. Super famous. So famous it destroyed his business. Not so smart.

As I was setting out my column for this month, following a gentle reminder from Tess on the editorial team, a similar theme reared its ugly head. DeadHappy, the controversial insurance broker, filed for administration.

I’ve been at the sharp end of this media wise before and it is a time of huge stress and major uncertainty for everyone, especially the employees. So, I take no pleasure in calling them out on their marketing, but the fact remains that the way they courted controversy for the sake of column inches went way too far.

It raised eyebrows for sure. It got them attention, that is beyond doubt. Did it make them some friends? Maybe. Did it get them clients? Yes. Did it also put up a great big ”Bargepole Alert” sign within a traditional industry that wanted to steer well clear of partnering with them? Yes.

It was a short-term approach to marketing that they saw as making a splash and being disruptive, but far too many people who made the business model feasible pushed back against or actively ran from. It was not sustainable but that didn’t appear to bother them.

Note that I said “appear” – who knows what they really thought but frankly, appearances are nine tenths of the PR law.

The Harold Shipman furore was the straw that broke the camel’s back but the response from DeadHappy’s founder was tone deaf: “Being provocative is different to being offensive and it is of course never our intention to offend or upset people. It is our intention to make people stop and think. If however you have been personally distressed by this advert we do sincerely apologise.”

Communication is all about what the listener receives, not what you say. DeadHappy have learned that lesson the hard way.


A former business journalist, Greg Simpson is the author of The Small Business Guide to PR and has been recognised as one of the UK’s top 5 PR consultants, having set up Press for Attention PR in 2008.

He has worked for FTSE 100 firms, charities and start-ups and conducted press conferences with Sir Richard Branson and James Caan. His background ensures a deep understanding of every facet of a successful PR campaign – from a journalist’s, client’s, and consultant’s perspective.

See this column in the July issue of East Midlands Business Link Magazine here.

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