When all publicity is not good publicity

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If the recent local government elections in Tasmania told us anything about communications, it was that reputation built over time and an ability to engage with the community are the keys to success.

Last time I put pen to paper I argued that there can be times when all publicity is good publicity hopefully in an attempt to be a bit tongue in cheek (read here), but this time round I’m going to argue the opposite – just to keep the grey matter active.

When you live in the world of public relations, it is very easy to lose sight of the big picture, in that much of your time is either seeking to publicise a particular initiative or on the other hand minimize the negative impact of some kind of dispute.

However, the real aim of effective communications when dealing with traditional media, working with targeted communications to stakeholders or for that matter interacting on social media, is to build reputation and trust with the community.

This is a process of ensuring that you and your particular organisation is known to ensure the community perception of who you are and what you do, actually matches the reality.

Hence the building of reputation is done over time and this is why effective communications should be considered in the broad context of organizational goals through the creation of a strategic communications plan.

The basis for this is that while your organisation knows intimately what you stand for are something you know intimately, beyond your direct sphere of influence, little is understood about your organisation beyond what people read in the newspaper, see on television, engage with through social media or hear through word of mouth.

In other words, perception is rarely driven by an individual, but more so other people’s interpretation of what it is you or your organisation does, so in this context if you do nothing from a communications perspective, then little will be known about you.

If you then apply this argument to the Local Government elections then you begin to see a bit of trend, that being despite the introduction of an ‘all in, all out’ voting system there were very high rates of incumbency because elected members are able to build their reputation over many years, so by the time of the election it was a no-brainer in terms of where people would vote.

This is because people build their perception of individuals or organisations over time, not just over a six to eight week election period.

What the election period does, is forces people in the community to think back on their understanding of the various candidates acts over the last number of years and make a judgment on those actions as opposed to reading the front page of the newspaper over a couple of days and making a decision on that basis.

However, if this is true, then you may well ask then, how is it that in Glenorchy a relatively unknown candidate (outside her municipality) in Kristie Johnston managed to wipe the floor in the mayoral election and achieve an overwhelming 58.33 p.c. of first preference results for that role.

To understand this, you need to know that Kristie’s campaign for Mayor probably started two years ago, if not four.

Instead of playing for headlines in the mainstream daily media, Ms Johnston secured community support through working closely with them, running public forums on topics of interest, representing groups who felt they didn’t have a voice and just as importantly mobilizing her community through social media.

In a great Tasmanian tradition, it was word of mouth that built her reputation, because as highlighted by the Font 2013 Social Media Index people trust what their family and friends say over all other sources.

This applies in our social lives as well and highlights that if you can engage with people and talk to them about things that are meaningful to them, they will return the interest by talking about you.

What this means in this context, is that it is not about making a splash during an election campaign, but actually about using it as an opportunity to get your audience to remember what it is you stand for.

That is why reputation is built over time, but publicity can be achieved in a moment and forgotten as quickly.

So in this context, all publicity is not good publicity: it has got to always be meaningful if it is to succeed in getting your message across.


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