Sean Hand – Senior Account Executive at Spreckley

The phrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ has been bandied about for decades. While it would be naïve to suggest that all media exposure is positive (think Volkswagen), some companies have relentlessly pursued publicity and seen fabulous returns: Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary has seen profits go through the roof thanks to an irreverent approach to marketing. Over in America, the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas draws patrons from all over the globe thanks to its commitment to making its food as unhealthy as possible.

In recent weeks, animal protection charity PETA has waged an unusual campaign of its own, all in the name of generating publicity. Representatives penned a letter to Kevin Rountree, CEO of Games Workshop, asking the company to ban ‘fur’ from the attire of its Warhammer figurines.

A crucial point to note here is that, in reality, the ‘fur’ on the clothing of the aforementioned Warhammer characters is not real. This led to confusion amongst some observers, with many questioning why PETA would drag Games Workshop into its crusade. But as PETA later confirmed, the entire project was designed to raise the charity’s profile, drive traffic to its website and social media profiles and, ultimately, raise awareness of the ongoing global trade in animal fur.

One of our clients here at Spreckley, Promon, conducted a similar project back in November. Choosing vehicle manufacturer Tesla as an example, Promon demonstrated how a lack of security in mobile apps can effectively lead to the theft of a Tesla car. While a small number of observers wondered why Tesla was chosen for this, most noted how the campaign helped raise some crucial issues around the safety of Internet of Things devices. For Promon, this led to increased web traffic, a rapid elevation of its public profile and a number of promising new business leads.

Clearly, campaigns designed to rapidly raise the profile of a company can work, but only if done in the right way. They can’t be done on a whim – careful planning needs to go into crafting the campaign, ensuring that what you are saying aligns neatly with your company’s key messages.

At the same time, it can’t descend into an all-out attack on a company’s reputation. Instead, such a project should create a debate which can ultimately turn out to be beneficial to both parties. This is where both PETA and Promon’s campaigns did well – by acknowledging the real-world issues raised and affirming their commitment to helping resolve them, Games Workshop and Tesla could emerge from these situations with their reputations enhanced.

In short, deliberately generating publicity can work wonders if you do it well. Plan your approach properly, and make sure you don’t come across as downright offensive. That way, you stand to position yourself as a well-nuanced thought leader in your industry.