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February 16, 2019

There’s no such thing as bad publicity? Think again.

Photographic proof that bad publicity hurts all of us. Photo from
Photographic proof that bad publicity hurts all of us.
Photo from

As a public relations professional, I absolutely hate the phrase, “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”

The misguided mantra stems from the erroneous belief that it’s all good as long as people are talking about you – even if they are saying some pretty horrendous things. Why? It gives you name recognition. It means you’re worthy of attention. It means you’re relevant.

It also means you’re trying to validate the short term gains of bad behavior.

Many people desire to be famous, but few desire to be notorious – unless it brings in a lot of attention and money.

Miley Cyrus simulated sex acts on national television? Ooh, that’s not nice, but she got 306,000 tweets a minute after the VMAs, and she set the all-time record for viewers for her new video.  That is success!

The Kardashians built an empire based on a sex tape and relationship mistakes? Ooh, that’s a bit messed up, but the family’s net worth is estimated to be around $80 million, and Kim has more than 18.5 million followers on Twitter. (In contrast, the Dalai Lama, who has no sex tape, has only has 7.8 million.) Wow, that’s impressive!

Yes, these folks rolled in the dough and are known around the world – for now.  Bad publicity can bring in short term gains, but few stop to consider the long term personal and societal cost.

Take another look at Miley. She may have been the most talked about woman in the world for a few weeks, but the overwhelming theme of that talk was negative. The number of video viewers came in out of curiosity, not out of fan devotion or artistic appreciation. She did enjoy a brief blip of financial success with increased record sales, but the numbers will come down as people grow weary of the shtick. What will she do to earn attention and relevance then?

What is the societal cost of all this bad publicity? Outlandish behavior gets emulated and rewarded. Good behavior gets ignored and mocked. We have morphed into a culture in which the end justifies the means. Individuals try to get attention based on “shock and awe” rather than working hard on talent and character. We expect instant results with no thought of long term consequences. Get rich quick. Lose weight now. Buy now pay later. YOLO, dude.

Bad publicity may elevate a person for a brief period, but it can’t beat gravity. What goes up must come down, and we’ve seen countless bad boys/girls crash and burn due to their own actions or fade away because their sycophants grew bored. Sadly, the lure of “it’s all good as long as people are talking about you”  will never die as long as people continue to read the tabloids, fawn over paparazzi photos, pay attention to celebrities’ vapid comments, worship fame, and watch TMZ rather than CNN.

This makes me rethink my life and career. I’ve been playing it safe for years and focusing on being a generally decent human being. Perhaps I need to do something totally stupid and outrageous to get people talking.

Oh wait, I’m already doing that!  In many eyes, speaking out against today’s culture is stupid and outrageous enough.



7 Comments on There’s no such thing as bad publicity? Think again.

  1. I constantly wonder how the Kardashians became famous…I have not ever seen an episode of their show(I don’t have cable tv) but I think it says far more about the intelligence of the dimwits who watch the show, follow twitter and Instagram , than it says about the Kardashians …why would anyone fill the pockets of people who are famous for being infamous? It’s bizarre…it’s also indicative of the state of the world today..a world fueled by greed and excess. The Kardashians are simply keeping up.

  2. I agree completely, and I never understood the desire to publicly humilate yourself, and all for the attention of others–even if it is negative attention. I want to raise my nine year old daughter to appreciate herself, to have confidence in being a wonderful human being who shows her heart and not her skin and privates to gain friends. I am fearful that there are fewer current role models in the world today for her, and that truly makes me sad.

  3. Very good point. I’ve noticed that with pop culture, no news is good news. When there’s “news,” it’s usually something scandalous with intentions to gain publicity.

  4. I like the way you think. You are spot on in your analysis. Bad publicity / nortoriety is nothing to envy. You may be one of the minority, and i’d rather follow the Dali Lama than the Kardashians any day, if it’s a role model I’m looking for.

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