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The Publicity Handbook: How to Maximize Publicity for Products, Services, and Organizations, by David Yale, explains that supplying information that is factual, interesting, and newsworthy to media not controlled by oneself is publicity. The media involved can take a variety of forms, including magazines, newspapers, radio, television, and trade journals. The Random House Handbook of Business Terms defines publicity as "information designed to appear in any medium of communication for the purpose of keeping the name of a person or company before the public or of creating public interest in their activities" (Nisberg, 1988, p. 229).

Publicity is usually generated from an organization's public relations department and its goal is to gain media coverage. Newsworthy events receiving publicity include ground-breaking ceremonies, press conferences, organized protests, and ceremonial appointments. Successful publicity occurs when an organization has a carefully designed publicity plan, which includes crisis control methods. Media gatekeepers favor publicity events that provide opportunities for photos and video or sound recordings and effectively communicate the source's intended message.

Ethical performance helps a company prevent or counteract negative publicity and gives a company, organization, or individual a competitive edge in gaining air-time or space in publications. In order to gain publicity, a company or individual must have clearly defined and specific goals. Publicity can help a company accomplish many of its goals. Effective publicity can increase sales, bring more customers into a store, and clarify misconceptions. Companies must pick and choose which events deserve media coverage in order to avoid "overkill." Not everything needs full-scale media attentiononly events that are most newsworthy and important.


Negative publicity can be the result of a mishandled crisis. Anticipating crises and having a solid crisis plan in place, however, can save a company from potentially disastrous situations and enhance its image. A company must first understand the different types of potential crises that exist, avoid common mistakes when handling crises, and be proactive when dealing with a crisis.

The February 5, 2001, article Can Firestone Get Back on the Road? in the Brand Debate section of the Web site points out that the rise of the Internet has made it possible for bad news to travel fast, making it more difficult for companies to react quickly when a crisis strikes. Online discussion groups and chat rooms can spread worldwide bad publicity for a company within minutes. Moreover, consumers have become more skeptical and less trusting than they were even a decade ago and no longer easily buy into the "spin" tactics used by companies in time of crisis. Ratings wars have caused the media to adopt more sensationalized methods of reporting and be always ready to pour more fuel on the fire.

The three major types of potential crises are immediate, emerging, and sustained. An unexpected event, such as a terrorist attack, is an immediate crisis, and does not allow for research and planning. There should be a general consensus among key management on how to react in these situations in order to avoid confusion, delay, or argument. Emerging crises, such as employee dissatisfaction, low morale, or sexual harassment, allow for more research and planning. Management should take corrective action before these issues become critical. Despite the best efforts by management, sustained crises can persist for months or even years. These types of crises can result from media rumors or speculation. Once a company or organization has identified the type of crisis, specific methods should be put into place to control unfavorable publicity.

With effective damage-control methods, any type of publicity can be an advantage for an organization. All organizations should have a crisis management team (CMT) whose job is to anticipate crises and be ready to respond to the worst by upholding the image and reputation of the company if a crisis situation arises. Companies can hire external CMTs or develop and train in-house CMTs.

A company or organization should avoid hesitation in speaking with the press when a crisis occurs. Hesitation may be perceived as callousness, incompetence, or a lack of preparation. Obfuscation, or being unclear, leads the public to believe that the company is insensitive or is not being honest. Retaliation can increase tension and heighten emotions, rather than reduce them. Prevarication, or making false statements, is the biggest mistake a company can make because nothing should substitute for the truth. The use of inflated languagepontificationsimply avoids the issue at hand. Confrontation will keep the issue alive, and litigation eliminates all other viable solutions to the crisis.

To combat negative publicity during a crisis, communication lines must be opened. A company spokesperson should be selected, and all employees should send any crisis inquiries directly to this spokesperson. The media should be supplied with information as quickly as possible. The company must be open to the media and tell the full story so that reporters do not look to outsiders to fill in the gaps.

The company must express its concern about the crisis and should show empathy for all who are affected by the problem. Most importantly, the company should tell the public what it is going to do to resolve the crisis and should have a company representative available twenty-four hours a day so long as media interest exists.

Once the crisis is over, the CMT should meet again to summarize the crisis situation, review and evaluate how the plan was implemented, and give open feedback and appropriate recommendations in order to determine where improvements can be made in the crisis-management plan.


The crisis management methods used by four companiesEnron, Firestone, Ford, and Wal-Martare examined below.


Nick Beams, author of Enron: The Real Face of the "New Economy" wrote about the 2001 accounting scandal surrounding Texas-based energy trading conglomerate Enron. Before its destruction, Enron had been included six times on Fortune magazine's annual list of "most innovating companies." Also destroyed by the scandal was the company's accounting firm Arthur Andersen.

Enron was formed in the late 1980s as a result of a merger between two gas pipeline firms. By 2000 it had accumulated $101 billion in revenue, but by October 2001 the company reported a $638 million loss. Beams reported, "On November 8, Enron filed documents with the SEC revising its financial statements for the past five years to account for $586 million in losses." The company's bankruptcy was the largest in history and the 21,000 employees with 401K pension plans invested in the company were left with worthless stock. Arthur Andersen waited too long to take responsibility for the tampered financial statements and this hesitation alone ruined the firm's reputation just as badly as Enron's.

Firestone and Ford

In August 2000 Firestone tires found itself in a major crisis. The event caused sales for the 100-year-old brand to drop by 50 percent. Firestone tires could be found on the Ford Explorer, the most popular sport-utility vehicle in the United States, and a tire defect had been linked to 88 road deaths in the United States and a further 46 in Venezuela. After recalls in eighteen countries allegations surfaced that both companies had been aware of the defect since 1997, but rather than warn consumers, the companies withheld important consumer safety information. Initially, 70 percent of consumers believed Ford and Firestone handled the crisis well. After only two weeks, however, that number dropped to 17 percent, severely tarnishing both brandsand leading to the use of derogatory names, such as Gravestone and Tombstone, by some consumers.


In 2005, according to the Wal-Mart fact page on the company's Web site, there were six former female employees who had a class-action suit against the company and were claiming the company discriminated against women. To proactively combat this negative publicity, Wal-Mart created a separate diversity office in November 2003. At that time, women made up 60 percent of Wal-Mart associates, but held only 40 percent of management positions.

In addition to these suits, Wal-Mart had 40 pending wage and hour cases in which employees claimed they were working without being paid. Wal-Mart's Web site openly states, "These allegations go against our three basic beliefsrespect for the individual, service to our customers and strive for excellenceand we take these allegations very seriously." Wal-Mart, unlike Ford, Firestone, and Enron, was not hesitating to get their message out into the public and was taking a proactive approach to the negative publicity; as a result, sales for the company were not being adversely affected.


Publicity is not advertising, public relations, or promotions, because it is not controlled or paid for, but it has many advantages. If used correctly, companies can benefit greatly from publicity. Careful planning, research, and training can reduce negative publicity and can help companies control crises.

see also Advertising ; Marketing Mix ; Promotion


Beams, Nick (2001, December 6). Enron: The real face of the "new economy." Retrieved January 3, 2006, from the World Socialist Web Site:

Brand Debate Archive. (2001, February 5). Can Firestone get back on the road? Retrieved January 3, 2006, from

Brimm, Dave (2002, March 21). Enron debacle forcing corporations to evaluate power of reputation management. Retrieved January 3, 2006, from the Publicity Club of Chicago Web site:

Carter, Ginger Rudeseal (1999). Perspectives public relations. St. Paul, MN: Coursewise.

Cutlip, Scott M., Center, Allen H., and Broom, Glen M. (2006). Effective public relations (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Gender discrimination lawsuit update. (2005). Retrieved January 3, 2006, from the Wal-Mart Web site:

Nisberg, Jay N. (1988). The Random House handbook of business terms. New York: Random House.

Yale, David R. (1995). The publicity handbook: How to maximize publicity for products, services, and organizations. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC Business Books.

Jennifer L. Scheffer

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"Publicity." Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, 2nd ed.. . 16 Dec. 2017 <>.

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pub·lic·i·ty / pəˈblisətē/ • n. the notice or attention given to someone or something by the media: the case attracted wide publicity in the press. ∎  public exposure; notoriety: the only passage that has been found worthy of nationwide publicity. ∎  the giving out of information about a product, person, or company for advertising or promotional purposes: head of publicity and marketing | [as adj.] publicity photographs. ∎  material or information used for such a purpose: we distributed publicity from a stall in the marketplace.

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