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Should You Use Publicity to Defend Your Reputation? Publicity Dilemma 1

Suppose you inadvertently get involved in a project that receives public criticism. Maybe the founder of a charity for which you were a spokesperson embezzled the money. Or an anthology to which you contributed turned up at the scene of a crime. Should you issue a press release disassociating yourself from such dishonorable events?

In most cases, no.

Surprised? Keeping quiet when you feel your reputation is becoming tarnished certainly goes against the natural impulse to defend yourself. Ask yourself two all-important questions before you rush to act, however: First, were you directly named and attacked in reference to this event? And second, are you certain that nearly everyone you do business with already knows about the incident? If the answer to both questions is yes, then go ahead and defend yourself vigorously with a press release, a statement on your web site, an email to your subscriber list and every other form of messaging you can think of.

If your answer to both questions is not yes, then hold back. You might very likely be making things worse by responding.

Think of it this way: Someone you previously thought well of suddenly shows up proclaiming "I am not a crook!" or "I did nothing wrong!" If you had not heard of the incident that prompted this protest, or if you'd run across it but hadn't paid attention, you couldn't help becoming curious now. And one of three things can happen next. You learn the story and decide that the person protesting non-involvement did have some responsibility for the events. Or you don't look into the story but go on remembering that the person was accused of something terrible. Or you listen to the person's defense and decide they are indeed 100% blameless.

Two out of three of those outcomes - and maybe even the third as well - are worse than the original situation, where you were unaware of the incident. Ask someone wrongly accused of a crime sometime whether or not their acquittal totally washed away the taint of being charged and tried.

The same reasoning applies to defending your honor in the letters to the editor column of the newspaper. Too often an angry defense puts you in a worse light than the original article. Why? First, some people who did not see the offending article will read the letter, thus increasing awareness of the very news item you were trying to squelch. And second, people who write such letters in anger or indignation do not usually come off well to an uninvolved reader. Do you want people in your community to be thinking of you as a thin-skinned hothead? Third, understand that you are probably over-reacting. The material that upset you probably didn't come across as negatively to others as it did to you.

This goes for someone saying negative things about you online, also. I'll never forget receiving an email from a best-selling author who was upset about a critical review of one of his books that I posted on Amazon.com. He tried to convince me that I was wrong. I pitied the guy for wasting energy on me. A mix of negative and positive reviews is actually a good thing for an author - more convincing than just praise, praise, praise. Prospective book buyers can read the varying opinions and decide who they agree with. And ditto for opinions expressed on blogs or in discussion forums.

So don't be so quick to charge to your defense when someone says or implies something bad about you. If you truly feel your reputation is at stake, find a communication professional to review the situation and your reply with you before you send off a response. More often than not, you're best off keeping your indignation and self-vindication to yourself.

Publicity expert Marcia Yudkin is the author of 6 Steps to Free Publicity, Persuading on Paper, Web Site Marketing Makeover and eight other books. She has engineered coverage for herself or her company in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, Success, Women in Business and dozens of newspapers around the world. Get free access to a one-hour audio recording in which she answers the most common questions about getting media coverage at www.yudkin.com/publicityideas.htm

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