When PR or marketing goes bad, brands need to know how to respond in order to get themselves back on the right track, and back in the good graces of the public.
In order to do this, businesses need to understand what kind of responses their customers and the general public favor, and which ones will only bring further criticism and negative publicity.
While looking at what people respond positively to is definitely important, examining the other side of the coin, when people respond negatively, may actually be more revealing, and helpful when it comes to crafting your own response.
Recently, an incredibly illuminating example of a PR disaster came from the band Yacht, and their attempts to bring publicity for their new music video.
Yacht, whose lead members, Claire L. Evans and Jona Bechtolt are in a romantic relationship, did this by releasing a statement through their Facebook, claiming to have been the victims of a leaked sex tape “due to a series of technological missteps and one morally abject person.”
They later followed up this statement with another, stating that they had decided to release and sell the video on their own so that they could “take some kind of ownership over what has happened.”
Both of these statements received an overwhelming outpour of support, both from fans, and media. However, it was quickly uncovered that the entire situation had been a hoax in order to raise publicity for a new music video. This led to immediate and total backlash against Yacht and the stunt, pointing out that it made light of actual victims of abuse and revenge porn.
The entire situation was incredibly strange to watch unfold, and quickly became an absolute PR nightmare. However, by looking at Yacht’s PR and marketing failure, there are many lessons that companies need to heed when it comes to their own efforts.
PR Stunts Are Bad, Mmmkay?!
The biggest lesson that brands should learn from the recent Yacht situation is that, in general, publicity stunts do not work. At the very least, they are incredibly risky, and leave you incredibly open to the possibility of backlash. This is because consumers generally do not respond well to deception.
Deception inherently breaks down communication between a brand and its customers, which is a surefire way to spell disaster. In fact, according to Intuit, bad communication is one of the biggest signs that an idea is a bad one.
"They say communication is vital in a relationship. With that in mind, communication is also essential in your business. The idea itself must be communicated clearly and directly to your target audience. The relationships of the communicators with the market, investors, and employees should be honest, open, and maintained on a regular basis. Make sure you understand the importance of communication and practice it well."
Instead of pulling off an elaborate hoax in order to build awareness for your brand, you should direct your efforts toward more directly marketing and raising awareness.
Related Article: When Bad Reviews Hit: Should You Call Legal or PR?
Human Stories Resonate, Both for Good and Bad
When Yacht made their announcement, the outpouring of support for them was both immediate and massive. When the truth of the situation became clear, the negative reaction against the band was equally strong.
While Yacht’s existing fan base certainly led to the story being covered as widely as it was, it still vastly outsized their typical place in pop culture and music discussion. This is because people so heavily gravitated to the human aspect of this story. It wasn’t just about a band having something bad happen to them, it was about two people having their personal lives invaded in a horrible way.
For many people, now, the personal aspect of this story cannot be separated from the band and its music. This is something we see on a regular basis in the business world, as well. When people become public representations of a brand, that means that their personal lives and decisions also have the power to impact the brand.
No Halfhearted Apologies
If your brand does find itself in a situation where it has upset people, it’s important to remember to be genuine and sincere when it comes time to apologize.
While it would have been impossible for Yacht to totally regain the favor they lost because of their stunt, they made things even worse for themselves by releasing an incredibly halfhearted and tone-deaf statement that was largely dismissive of the criticisms saying the stunt made light of legitimate victims of abuse.
“There is one dark note we want to address. We never make light of victims of any form of sexual abuse. Frankly, it’s disturbing to us that press outlets could make the incredibly irresponsible leap from “celebrity sex tape,” which is the cultural trope this project explicitly references, to “revenge porn,” which is unfunny, disgusting, morally repugnant, and completely unrelated. Even within the fictional narrative we created, there was no violence or exploitation. It was always about agency and proactive empowerment.”
This non-apology is a fantastic lesson in being blind to legitimate concerns and complaints. Firstly, it incorrectly suggests that these complaints emanated solely from media, while in reality it came from the general public and media alike.
By ignoring criticism and not owning up to their mistakes in their initial statement, Yacht not only alienated their own fans that had legitimate concerns. This also effectively hamstrung the positive effects or goodwill from their eventual apology (both for the initial hoax and their previous non-apology).
Businesses need to think about this when facing PR crises. You can save yourself a great deal of trouble if you are on top of addressing concerns people have, seeing things from multiple points of view, and offering sincere apologies when you have made a mistake.
While you should absolutely stand by your brand’s core beliefs and decisions that fall in line with those, you also need to be flexible and open-minded.
This is why it is vital when managing situations like this to react in ways that demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence by being empathetic to the thoughts and feelings of those who are criticizing your error in judgement, and not being afraid to admit your mistakes and learn from them.