Do PR Controversies Hurt or Help Companies?
Despite the common-sense answer, a recent report revealed that controversies can actually help companies, provided they are handled well. The marketing consulting firm WrightIMC surveyed 3,000 consumers regarding their feelings about corporations that faced criticism for taking a political or controversial stand. The research suggested that while such statements may cause a temporary dip in sales, they often result in long-term revenue increases.
Obviously, not everyone will agree with a business when it voices its opinion on an issue and some may even boycott. However, as long as the stance does not turn away core audiences, it can be a successful tactic. When the statement is in line with the corporation’s key values and company culture, it will reinforce brand loyalty. And the free press placing an organization on a particular side of a topic will likely attract new customers who strongly support that position. (Note: See Chick-fil-A)
One key to surviving (and potentially thriving from) a controversy is a robust crisis management strategy. Before taking a public stance, a company should weigh the pros and the cons of doing so, and assess if it can weather the temporary storm. Businesses must have a crisis communication plan in place to address the potential problems that its new declaration may cause.
The second, and very critical, piece to the puzzle is consistent messaging. If a business hopes to endure the PR crisis surrounding a controversy, it should not waver in its position or core messages. This means ensuring that all corporate spokespersons are media trained on the topic, and that their statements match up with those given by the company in print, online, and elsewhere.
In today’s market, companies cannot afford to be just another fly on the wall. Taking a stand gives the brand a personality and distinguishes it from the competition. This research notes that when addressed correctly, the risk of taking on a hot button issue just might pay off in the long run. However, companies should certainly think long and hard about their core values and customer base before taking that leap of faith.