Friday, 30 March 2012

Fuelling the flames of negative PR

You would’ve had to have been out of the country this week not to have seen how badly handled PR can affect our daily lives. I am, of course, talking about the threat of fuel strikes which this week has gripped the UK population in a seemingly paranoid frenzy over potential shortages. From a PR perspective it has been interesting to witness the power of messaging going wrong. Government calls to the public not to panic buy, combined with almost contradictory (and at times misguided) advice on how to store reserves of fuel, have resulted in chaos at petrol stations across the country. Even drivers making their scheduled fill-up in the last few days have been met by unprecedented queues of other drivers opportunistically filling up to save themselves from the threat of running dry. Overall it shows how critical the timing of PR can be, making the right noises at the wrong time can cause just as many problems as an ill-advised comment. Had the threatened strikes materialised the advice given may well have been sensible, but sometimes pre-empting problems can actually fan the flames of panic. We always recommend that our clients think through the implications of answering a potential PR crisis – sometimes it can be better to manage an issue reservedly to stop the threat of trouble becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the flipside of PR, it can also have a tremendously positive effect as reported on the BBC News website this week. A San Francisco-based video games developer is making history by financing its next title using money pledged by its fans and supporters. Using its groundswell of support, Double Fine Productions was able to generate headline-grabbing news which has further fed the campaign to raise funds. As a reward the fans (or perhaps we should say investors) that pledge money get to talk directly to developers, make suggestions and ultimately get a free copy of the game once its completed. It’s interesting to see the relationship that could develop from customers and stakeholders merging into one group and its potential development in the future.

Another big story in the world of technology this week was the news that games retailer Game went into administration on Monday. The Guardian’s Keith Stuart blogged the story and how it could be a sign of wider changes in the consumer technology market (not just games) as highstreet retailers struggle to win a seemingly diminishing market against online retailers and big supermarkets who have the clout to cut costs and offer cheaper products and services. The article also looks at the potentials and pitfalls of selling games via online download, which could transform the market in much the same way that music downloads have all but crushed the physical music format market. What the potential demise of Game demonstrates is that the technology industry is going through some uncertain times and as a whole needs to work harder than ever to get its message across to existing and potential clients. Inevitably Marketing and PR have a greater role than ever in attracting essential sales.

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