As the adage goes, there is no such thing as bad publicity—or is there? We’re here to dispel the old phrase and discuss the importance of good publicity for marketing and the role public relations plays.

Publicity and public relations (PR) are important in the business world. It can help companies build a positive public image, build a stronger brand reputation, and foster a healthy relationship with clients. Negative publicity and PR, despite the old saying, can have the opposite effect. 

That’s why it’s time to dispel the myth that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. If you’re running a business, looking for PR tips, or studying a related qualification like a Graduate Diploma Business Administration, it’s essential to understand the importance of good publicity.

We’ll also be covering different examples that debunk the myth. These companies have gone through bad publicity, impacting their financials and brand reputation. 

Understanding PR & publicity

Before we break down the big myth, it’s important to understand publicity and the greater role of public relations. Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, publicity and public relations have different meanings and roles.

What is public relations?

With the rise of the internet, the role and meaning of public relations have changed over time. A good way to describe public relations is the strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and the public. 

In the business world, public relations is about influencing and building relationships with key stakeholders, as well as maintaining a positive perception in the public eye. The role of a public relations team in a company encompasses various responsibilities:

  • Anticipating, analysing, and interpreting public opinion, attitudes, and issues towards a company and their products.
  • Offering counselling management to all levels of an organisation with policy decisions and communications.
  • Protecting the company’s and brand reputation. 
  • Overseeing and managing the creation of content to drive customer/client engagement.
  • Generating leads and building engagement on social media platforms.

Publicity is one of the outcomes generated by public relations. Public relations is also the department that would deal with damage control if there was ever any bad publicity.

Common disciplines or roles in a PR team include crisis communications, media relations, content creation, event planning, social media, reputation management, speech writing, and brand journalism.

What is publicity?

Publicity refers to the public awareness that an organisation, service, or product gets. The ultimate goal of publicity is for a company or product to generate a positive perception in the public and increase awareness through promotion. 

Publicity can come in various forms. We commonly see publicity in media outlets every day, covering new product releases, or the actions of a company. Publicity can be generated in different ways, like press releases from a company, publicity stunts, or organised events. 

A company might even employ a person, a publicist, whose job is to generate publicity. For instance, a publicist working for a publishing company launching a new book would contact bookstores and media outlets on the author’s behalf for promotion. 

It’s important to not confuse publicists and public relations officers. Breaking it down simply, a public relations officer’s role is to handle all media and communication, including devising plans to generate publicity, whilst a publicist would execute the plan.

Debunking the myth

The phrases ‘any publicity is good publicity’ and ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ are rumoured to date back hundreds of years. The saying was first attributed to the American showman and circus owner, Phineas T. Barnum, in the 19th century.

The famous writer, Oscar Wilde, said something similar—‘The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.’ Hundreds of years ago, this line of thinking may have been true when consumers’ options were limited, but now with the variety we have and social media—this isn’t true. 

The digital world has rapidly evolved, changing how consumers form opinions and how publicity spreads. When it comes to products, services, and supporting organisations, consumers are more socially conscious than ever.

Even a bad rumour can be enough to significantly hinder the success of a business, or even shut them down. Bad publicity can lead to a loss of trust in an organisation, a slump in sales, and damaged brand recognition.

Examples of bad publicity

All it takes is one PR mistake to generate bad publicity and impact a company’s reputation. Even the world’s most successful brands can screw up with bad publicity, resulting in millions of dollars in damage. 

Here are some infamous examples of bad publicity, breaking the myth that ‘any publicity is good publicity’. 


In June 2012, a Vodafone store employee, Arthur Kotsopoulos, was given control of the company’s social media. He claimed he was a ‘self-styled’ social media expert, writing reviews and articles for Vodafone’s blog.

Things took a dark turn when he took to Facebook and Twitter, calling people slurs for their lack of smartphone knowledge. The company faced massive backlash and a loss of 600,000 customers when Kotsopoulos threatened to ‘pimp slap backhand’ customers. 

This is one of the biggest publicity disasters a company has faced in Australia. It’s also a classic example of why not all publicity is good publicity—and why social media engagement is best conducted by professionally trained PR staff.

BP CEO Tony Hayward

When apologising to US Gulf Coast residents for the worst oil spill in the country’s history, BP CEO Tony Hayward followed up with ‘I’d like my life back’. This quote was the cause of one of the worst bad publicity examples in corporate history.

This oil incident caused 11 deaths and consequently led to an environmental disaster. After Hayward’s comment made headlines, he lost his job and the company took a huge blow to its finances and reputation.

Good publicity & PR

If there’s anything we’ve learnt from the examples, it’s that good publicity and an effective public relations team goes a long way. Statistics show that 7 out of 10 customers choose to buy more from brands they trust, which is only possible with a positive public image.

Public relations and good publicity are integral to forming this public image. It’s also the most important factor in creating a strong brand reputation and building trust with customers and the public.