Bad PR? Fear Not. As NPR Learned, This Too Shall Pass.

As we’ve mentioned before, social media won’t save you from a PR crisis — and that’s okay.

For better or worse, the public has a short memory, and yesterday’s furious anger is tomorrow’s footnote.  This means companies large and small can survive bad PR as long as they can ride the occasional wave up and down.

For example, considering how much negative publicity was generated in the mainstream media when NPR fired Juan Williams, you might have thought NPR would be destined for funding crises and possible financial collapse.  Instead, as recent pledge drive numbers have shown, NPR’s donation numbers remained remarkably consistent despite all the media rhetoric.

So, if negative PR can’t sink a company… what can it do?

Ironically, bad PR’s biggest boon just might be providing useful feedback for the companies in question.

In the case of NPR, one of the lessons they learned was that the bulk of their angry commentary was coming from people who weren’t regular donors in the first place.  As Paul Farhi in The Washington Post reports:

Several station managers say the angriest responses have been from people who appeared not to be regular contributors, based on their cross-referencing caller and e-mailers’ names with databases of donors.

If that’s the case, NPR might downplay similar criticisms in the future since such commentary is most likely to come from far outside their core supportive audience.  Or, they could further investigate the issues at hand (freedom of speech, racial profiling, discriminatory practices) with the intention of appealing to that very same outsider audience.  Or, they might even fan the same flames that caused such an uproar in the first place, as a way to differentiate the actions of their brand from their competitors.

However NPR or any other company chooses to react to a sudden swirl of negative publicity, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: although social media may help messages spread faster than ever, its continual flood of information also helps good and bad PR disappear from the public’s memory faster than ever.

Image by Jared Dunn