“All press is good press.”
“There is no such thing as
“Bad press is better than no
These phrases and others like
them have been around business for ages.
Most people know them, repeat them and offer them as consolation to
friends and colleagues as appropriate.
Until it happens to them…
For me, and my relatively
small company, my five minutes of infamy came at the hands of the New York
Times (if you are going to get bad press, you might as well get the biggest possible
My company was still in the
startup stages at the time. We provided
travel management and reporting software for travel managers. The important part of that description is
that our entire client base was made up of travel managers.
I was interviewed about the
future of travel, based on new technology, and when the piece hit the presses
at the New York Times, it ran like this:
Mr. Jacobsen has a stronger view, suggesting that the
old breed is heading for extinction. “Five years from now, it’s possible
that you could call a large company and ask for a travel manager, and you would
be told, ‘I’m sorry, there is no such person,’ ” he said.
My clients were understandably outraged, I had just
informed them, in the largest newspaper in the country, that they were all
going to be out of business… in five years.
Quickly, other industry specific media outlets (traditional as well as
bloggers) picked up the story and before I knew what hit me, I was in the
middle of a media maelstrom.
At that moment, “there is no such thing as bad press”
was not what I wanted to hear. Indeed,
what I wanted to hear was the sound of Tahitian music on the tropical island
where I would be hiding for the remainder of my ostracized life. However, as it
turns out, it wound up being very good press, and was the stimulus that took
the company from barely existing to fairly stable almost overnight.
After posting an open letter on our web site
to anyone who wanted to know what was actually said, further supported by
quotes form prominent industry experts; we saw our web site traffic go up by a
factor of 25 (and that was after the initial burst calmed down), we tripled our
customer base, and I received literally hundreds of calls and emails from
people looking for consulting, presentations at trade shows, and more. In short, the bad press from the New York
Times had, to borrow another popular phrase, “put us on the map.”
Jennifer Laycock experienced the same phenomenon in a
more modern setting, a tight knit social internet community of around 2000
people. After taking the initial hit of
the social media storm, she came out better on the other side. She enjoyed visibility within her community
that she had not had before, realized an unprecedented level of support from
friends in the community, received valuable input for making her products
better, and eventually got exposure to a group of people who never would have
seen her business at all. Further, she
did what any good social media person would do, she blogged about it. Quoting her, “what started out
as a sinking ship quickly turned into a rocket ship.”
I talked to several rather
prominent people I know in the business world when I was preparing this story,
trying to find an example of “bad press” that turned out to actually be
bad. Thus far, no luck, although I did
get to hear a ton of very interesting stories very much like Laycock’s and my
own, enough, in fact, that I am pondering a book. So it appears, that perhaps, bad press really
is better than no press at all, in some cases, considerably so. The hard part, of course, is keeping that in
mind when it is happening to you.
Jacobsen writes and speaks on new and emerging media applications for both
government organizations and travel agencies. Soren gained invaluable
business experience through co-founding, building and .eventually exiting two
successful start-up companies. He also
maintains a personal blog at http://www.puntiglio.com/bookshelf