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The #1 secret PR tip: spread happy truths

Crisis communications professionals everywhere just had their world upended:  The Economist just may well have put you out of work by unleashing one of the most closely held secrets of the industry.

“Instead of denying false rumours, a company should put out a stream of positive messages about itself” wrote the reputable publication citing three academic researchers with reputable institutions.

Sheesh.  PRSA’s response to The Rise of the Image Man was all wrong.  I was clearly wrong.  I should quit my PR job and join the Army instead.  All we needed to do was start spreading happy thoughts. 

The Economist frames the issue this way:

“IF YOU Google the phrase “Middle East rumours”, the first link that pops up is not, as you might expect, a website propagating conspiracy theories. It is Coca-Cola’s website. For several years now the company has struggled to rebut ridiculous rumours about its products.

For example, some people believe that if you read Coke’s Arabic logo backwards, it says: “No Muhammad, No Mecca”. Others insist that the company is owned by Jews, or that it bankrolls Israel. These rumours are one reason why Coke does worse than Pepsi in Arab countries. Yet they are all false, as Coke’s website explains in painstaking detail.

Such rebuttals are unwise, argue Derek Rucker and David Dubois, of the Kellogg School of Management, and Zakary Tormala, of Stanford business school, three psychologists. By restating the rumours, Coke helps to propagate them. Its web page is a magnet for search engines. And people who read rebuttals tend to forget the denial and remember only the rumour, says Mr Rucker.”

The Coke rumors maybe true.  I spent a year in Iraq and drank a lot of Pepsi in funny metric-sized cans, but I think the ingredients of The Economist’s recommendation are all wrong, let alone the final elixir.

Being a magnet for search engines isn’t a bad thing!  People search for information and Coke’s information is first in search.  Being findable means they have a chance to contribute to the conversation, versus the alternative:  getting it second hand from an undergraduate student (the subject of the academic study).  

The latter would certainly happen if Coke didn’t address the issue directly, but rather spewed a stream of positive, motivational messages accented with flowery language and very pleasing press release quotes.   Maybe the rumors would just magically go away. 

The Economist’s story reminds me of that scene from Mars Attacks – see the video nearby.

Photo credit:  Flickr, Martin Whitmore

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