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Spreading Rumors…as a PR Tactic

Can you make a mistake as a PR ploy?  The scenario would play out like this:

1.  Company makes a dramatic change (i.e. ostensibly poor logo design).

2.  Social media is outraged.

3.  Company is tone-deaf, poises like a deer in headlights, backlash turns into shrieks.

4.  Company rebounds, utters a profound apology and reverses the decision.

5.  The Web echoes with “attaboy” – good job listening to your customers, way to go!

6.  Brand enjoys posts and citations of praise for six months.

Is this genuine crisis communications or a plan by design?

It’s not the first time this question has been raised – just before the new iPhone was launched – one “super-secret” beta model was mysteriously found in a drinking establishment.  The result was an A-List blogger got a scoop that added to the suspense and intrigue just before a major, and highly anticipated, new product announcement.  The insinuation I heard in PR circles was that Apple might have leaked the phone on purpose.

In either case, I just cannot believe such a rationale for several reasons. First, such a strategy would be entirely disingenuous – and unethical. Second, the story is so juicy it would escape even the most disciplined organization and be leaked to Mashable in a short time.  Third, the scale would be tipped adversely – the reward so little and the consequence so severe – the risk in exchange for the reward would be a disincentive.

Ah, yes, say the rumors, but Gap’s in dire financial condition – they are desperate and that’s why they would do this.  Well, the facts are earnings were up last quarter and losses were cut.  We have been in a recession and consumer spending is down so the outcome is not beyond the realm of expectations.  Indeed the cash in the bank does look a bit dicey and the stock has been “stagnant” according to a Bloomberg article with a URL that has since moved.

Still, while consumers don’t mind a PR ploy like the Old Spice campaign, a deceptive and manipulative campaign for a few headlines is a bit far-fetched.  Buzz from a faked misstep to create the façade of a distinguished recovery is an unlikely quick fix for a liquidity problem. A brand would pay for that – big time – and someone with signature authority would probably lose their job.

Such innuendo and rumor-mongering is an expression of a general lack of understanding of finance and business.  The question I have isn’t about making a mistake as a PR ploy – it’s about spreading naïve, if not reckless, rumors as a PR ploy.  That’s unethical.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Disinformation in Business and Facts, Diplomacy, and Trust as Countermeasures [UML]

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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