Debunking the myth – is there such a thing as bad publicity?

Bad publicity still has people talking. They’re using your name or your business in their conversations. But, do you really want to be known for negativity? Is the saying really true?

The adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” has long been a mantra in the world of marketing and public relations. But is it true? Does all publicity, even negative attention, ultimately benefit individuals and organisations?

The origins of the saying

The phrase “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is often attributed to the American showman and circus owner, Phineas Taylor Barnum, known for his extravagant promotional tactics in the 19th century. A time when ‘anything goes’ was a popular phrase.

Barnum believed that any form of attention, even negative publicity, could be leveraged to generate interest and curiosity, ultimately driving sales and attendance to his shows. Publicity, of course, gets your name out there. People are talking about you.

The pros and cons of bad publicity

While it’s true that negative publicity can sometimes generate buzz and attention, it also carries significant risks and consequences. Let’s explore the pros and cons of bad publicity:


  1. Increased visibility: Negative publicity can bring attention to individuals or organisations that may have otherwise gone unnoticed, raising awareness of their existence or cause.
  2. Engagement and discussion: Controversial topics or scandals often spark debate and conversation, leading to increased engagement and interaction with the public.
  3. Opportunity for redemption: In some cases, individuals or organisations can use negative publicity as an opportunity to acknowledge mistakes, apologize, and demonstrate a commitment to improvement, leading to redemption in the eyes of the public.


  1. Damage to reputation: Negative publicity can tarnish the reputation and credibility of individuals or organisations, leading to loss of trust, customers, and stakeholders.
  2. Legal and financial consequences: Scandals or controversies may result in legal action, fines, or financial losses, as well as damage to shareholder value and investor confidence.
  3. Psychological impact: Negative publicity can have a profound psychological impact on individuals, leading to stress, anxiety, and mental health issues as they navigate public scrutiny and criticism.

Case studies

Numerous examples throughout history illustrate both the benefits and pitfalls of bad publicity. From celebrity scandals to corporate crises, the outcomes vary depending on how individuals and organisations respond to the negative attention.

Celebrity scandals: High-profile celebrities often find themselves embroiled in scandals or controversies that attract media attention. While some celebrities successfully navigate these challenges and emerge unscathed, others experience lasting damage to their careers and reputations.

Corporate crises: Companies facing public relations crises, such as product recalls, environmental disasters, or unethical behaviour, must carefully manage the fallout to minimize damage and restore trust among customers, investors, and the public.

While the saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” may hold some truth in certain situations, it oversimplifies the complexities of public perception and reputation management. Negative publicity can indeed generate attention and discussion.

However, it also carries significant risks and consequences. Ultimately, individuals and organisations must carefully consider the potential impact of their actions on their reputation, credibility, and long-term success. By prioritising transparency, they can mitigate the risks. sign up for free GIF
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