A FRIEND of mine aspiring to trade in the communications industry has continuously asked whether there is anything such as bad PR. PR for starters is an acronym for public relations (just in case this is not your forte). Very many times we use it to refer to the reputation of a company or a brand and mainly how that brand relates with the public. Also, we at times think of it as media relations, which is just a component of it.

However, my friend’s question was: ‘How does a bad reputation affect an already powerful brand and secondly, can it affect a small brand as well (in equal measures?” The query was derived from the argument that some companies don’t seem to panic whenever they are faced with a bad reputation and yet smaller companies, with brands in obscurity seem to be in panic whenever they are faced with a pending PR crisis. Lots of people, mainly those who don’t understand how the PR world works will tell you, “BAD PR IS NOT GOOD.” Whereas their is logic in this, they still get baffled whenever big brands capitalize on bad press to get their conversations going. Many brands in Rwanda don’t even know this.

Here is one example! We all know that companies that are likely to suffer PR crises are those that offer services more especially if they need to offer some kind of customer care of guidance/education. So in this case telecoms and airlines are not immune, even those that offer utilities like WASAC and REG will always suffer a black lash whenever their services are ‘wack’. If (for example) WASAC or Rwandair is suffering from complaints of bad services being offered they can easily come out and probably use this as a platform to educate the public and in a way can also unveil their investment plan. The invest plan is likely to sooth the mind of the complainant and build confidence among clients including those who even have little or no understanding of the crisis. The in turn is GOOD PR.

In the midst of crises, clients will continue to talk about you and it wont matter if what they are saying however you have the power to change the narrative of the conversation. In one way or another the company can leverage some good PR as the conversation goes on which conversation can easily be skewed in whichever direction. PR practitioners on the other hand will tell you that PR can be negative or positive and you need to focus on improving your reputation above all else. I will give two other practical examples. Last year Africa Improved Foods (AIF) launched a new (obviously unknown at the time of launch) brand called Nootri (today we have Nootri Mama, Nootri Toto and Nootri Family).  Being a new brand one would expect it to face the challenge of obscurity (usually in Rwanda consumers take some time to appreciate a new brand). And since Nootri’s playing field is flooded with mainly competitive and non-competitive products TRUST has to be built.  

By the time of its launch many Rwandans had hardly heard of AIF and what the company’s vision was. With the unveiling of its Nootri products, there is a natural barrier to getting their message out there. In that sort of environment, just getting ANY attention is usually a good thing, even if its borne out of a crisis or out of bad PR. The more revelers share your name and talk about your brand, the better off you are regardless of whatever they are saying, it’s still good enough!

Brands with the obscurity challenge need to focus on getting noticed.  The usage of any kind of tactics to attract conversations and any kind of attention can work. But you should be careful because it can also backfire.

The second example is that of MTN Rwanda, which in 2017 suffered hostility from all kinds of disgruntled subscribers and later fined by the regulator. This is the challenge of building reputations. Once a company has an established brand that everyone appreciates and knows the challenge is maintaining your good reputation in a positive manner. MTN is lucky because is has many other initiatives that can easily divert attention. However the test is on how best they can tap into that. Also many Rwandan brands with these challenges have resort to measuring the value of their PR based on the volume of coverage they get from the media. This is wrong!

Measuring media coverage every month and simple mentions of brands in media isn’t enough most especially with the coming of digital media. There is need to focus on measuring sentiment and this should dictate the kind of message you want out there. Finally I have read somewhere that contrasting good with bad PR may actually come from same very brand that started off by focusing on creating controversy at all costs to be noticed. This means that while you really want to be noticed you should be careful crafting messages.

If you have enjoyed reading this piece kindly leave me a comment below. Or you can also reach me at keziomusoke@inspire.co.rw

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