Don’t Believe Your Own PR Hype!

The demise of Colonel Gaddafi and Sadam Hussain before him and even Nicolae Ceaușescu before him are stark illustrations of the dangers of believing one’s own over-egged PR machine.  Despite the despicable crimes these dictators perpetrated on their own peoples, it seems they shared a common, but mistaken, belief that the majority truly ‘loved’ them.

Like much of marketing, PR is often engaged in promoting only the positive.  In extreme cases, this may take the form of crisis management – a process of minimising the negative.  The trouble with this process is it can eventually lead to a self-deception where you don’t realize that your public has moved on.

An illustration of this in the business world is perhaps Microsoft vs Apple.  Microsoft has done its best over several decades, with a good degree of success, to control the PC desktop experience.  Stamping out competitors or buying them up.  Of course it could be argued that this was no bad thing.  After all, uniformity and compatibility helped spread PCs from niche to mainstream.

However, Microsoft’s belief that everyone was ‘locked in’ to their way of thinking has led to complacency and ultimately customer resentment.  Along comes Apple with innovative products to change the game – offering the disenfranchised customers true choice and they are voting with their feet.

It can not be said that Microsoft does not employ exceptional talent, that it does not have vast financial resources and that it is not well managed.  So how it did it fall so far behind the curve so quickly.  My answer is – it believed its own hype.  It ignored the mass of public feedback that came from court cases sparked by the ‘browser wars’.  It ignored the anger over the way software is licensed and the difficulties users faced when having to reinstall.  It ignored the disappointment users felt when software quality was well below par, lacked innovation, but still commanded a high price.

Ironically, Apple is much more controlling and draconian than Microsoft. However, Microsoft failed to address negative issues because it filed them under ‘crisis management’ when they arose and instructed its PR machine to minimise the ‘negative’.  This is self deception.

So what is the moral of the tale?  Don’t just think of PR as a means of selling the ‘positive’ or ‘managing’ a crisis.  Embrace criticism, acknowledge failure and change to meet customer expectations.  Then positive PR will occur naturally.

Adrian Maguire, Partner, Ainsworth Maguire Public Relations

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