Is There Really No Such Thing as Bad Publicity?

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Connie Ragen Green — Is There Really No Such Thing as Bad Publicity?

Perhaps you have heard this: There is no such thing as bad publicity.

I’m not sure where I first heard that statement, but as I have become more experienced with publicity, marketing and online business I have come to understand it more and more. This proverbial expression began to be used early in the 20th century. The earliest version that has been found in print is from an American newspaper called “The Atlanta Constitution”, which in January, 1915 printed:

All publicity is good if it is intelligent.

The goal is to get your name and message out to the world as often as possible, and once in awhile you must do something outrageous in order to achieve this goal. The thought that “there is no such thing as bad publicity” sounds outrageous to me.

In 2006 I came online and began my journey as an online entrepreneur. Simultaneously I began my involvement with charities and non-profit groups, first as a volunteer and finally as a member. Rotary, an international service organization, was the first group I connected with in this way. When I explained that I was starting a business from my home computer with blogging, affiliate marketing, and information products they asked me to become the chairperson of their marketing and publicity section. I asked if I could speak with the person who had done this job before me and they answered that no one had ever wanted to do it. I was puzzled by this answer, but knew that I would be able to create my own agenda to carry out the mission of letting people know about the great and important work that was being accomplished within Rotary worldwide and in my local Club in particular.

We had an upcoming event the following weekend at the largest venue in the city. It was the annual fundraiser for our senior center and all of the movers and shakers in the city would be in attendance. When I spoke with a few people in the Club about getting some press coverage for Rotary’s part in this event I was told that the press never covered anything involving Rotary because some of the people from the local newspaper and the radio station did not like some of the Rotarians in our Club. This sounded silly and childish to me, so on the night of the event I set out to meet any members of the press and media that I could find.

While working the lobby I asked the people I knew to please point out anyone they knew from the newspaper, local magazine, the radio station, and the cable television station. Then I went up to each of them individually to introduce myself and to ask them if they would write something about Rotary participating in this worthwhile event. I was struck by their honesty, and each one told me that the Rotarians were not doing anything that could be considered “newsworthy.” I was new to publicity and marketing and had never considered this perspective. But after I thought about it this made perfect sense. It wasn’t a society column where your name could be mentioned simply because you showed up and donated some money. No, these were reputable groups that needed some solid information if they were to print it in their publication or mention it on the air waves.

As I made my way back to the table where the other Rotarians were sitting, I thought about how I could provide them with something that fell into the category of being newsworthy. When I sat down my foot kicked something under the table and the man next to me told me to be careful. A short discussion ensued, I smiled broadly, and then I excused myself from the table and promised to return once the event had officially begun.

First, I made a stop at the hotel’s Concierge desk and asked to speak with the manager. She and I spoke for a few minutes and I thanked her for her time. I wanted to make sure it was not against the rules for us to have brought anything that could be considered contraband into the hotel during a charity event. Then I found the woman from the local newspaper I had been speaking with earlier and proceeded to tell her what was going on at the Rotary table that could very well be a newsworthy item. She laughed heartily and agreed, and the next morning the headline read:

“Rotary Club Smuggles in a Case of Wine to Avoid Hilton’s Exorbitant Prices”

What I had kicked under the table was a case of wine they had brought in to the event early in the evening. Instead of buying wine from the hotel, they had their own, along with a corkscrew. Throughout the night each bottle was opened and shared among the five tables we were occupying.

At first my Rotary Club was upset that I had shared this information with the media. But soon they saw it was all in fun and that it gave us a reputation of being rebels in the non-profit world. I told them that I had heard and honestly believed there was so such thing as “bad publicity” and for the next decade I was the person they turned to when they wanted to be seen or heard in the community.

Not all of my methods involved misbehaving on the part of our members. I shared a great project at the local elementary school with the Rotary International group a few months later and that led to a write up in the organization’s magazine that went out to well over a million people around the world. Even though our Club was more than fifty years old, they had never even been mentioned in that publication. It was a four page article with full color photos of the Rotarians involved and the project at the school. I believe that was when they decided I was a keeper, even if some of my methods were unconventional. And even if there is no such thing as bad publicity, being in the news for a positive reason is so much more valuable.

Perhaps the thought behind the proverb expressed sometime during the 1890s by Oscar Wilde is one worth remembering:

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

I’m author and online marketing strategist Connie Ragen Green. I work with entrepreneurs to create multiple streams of online income and would love to connect with you. Download my Online Entrepreneur’s Blueprint and get started right away.

Originally published at

Online marketing strategist, author, speaker, and publisher working with entrepreneurs on six continents.

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