Forget what they say, Bad PR exists.

by , under personal, The Wired Mom, writing

We’ve all heard the adage, “There’s no such thing as bad PR.” And in some fields, it’s true. In the entertainment industry, a negative news story is less likely to have a long term effect on someone’s career. (Unless you’re Lindsay Lohan, but that seems to be more of an addiction problem than a PR issue)

But for everyone else, it’s a lie.

Bad PR exists.

Not that long ago, Jenny Lawson (better known to you as The Bloggess) got an email pitching her pantyhose as a style fad (as seen on the Kardashians!) so she did as she always does, replied with a link to a page that explains that she’s not interested and includes a picture of Wil Wheaton collating paper. A VP of the PR company hit reply all (which of course means that she got to see it) while calling her an f*cking bitch and The Bloggess shared it. He had to shut down his Twitter account and illustrated what we all thought was the worse part of the PR field.

And this week, Penny Arcade shared an email thread between a customer and Paul of Ocean Marketing about the status of an order. The jist was that the customer had bought some during a pre-order where the delivery window had been specified as late November to early December. When that was nearing a close, he emailed to ask when the controllers were coming, since he was counting on them for Christmas. From there on, it spiraled into a customer service nightmare, where Dave wasn’t getting any answers and Paul treated him like an idiot. When Dave replied back with a fair email detailing where Ocean Marketing had failed in their response (which he forwarded to notable people in tech outlets including Penny Arcade), Paul began to thank him for all the free PR.

After Paul gloated that he’d be going to PAX East, “Gabe” aka Mike Krahulik, responded, saying that PAX was his convention and Paul then proceeded to rant about how that couldn’t be true. So Gabe posted Paul’s information. And Reddit quickly revealed that the content on his website was plagiarized from other sites (even the About Us section), and forced him to change his Twitter handle.

Paul attempted to apologize to Gabe, by saying that he didn’t know who he was and asked him to call off the internet mob. Apparently I’ve been apologizing wrong- you’re supposed to admit that you never would have done X if you only knew that your target was someone, at least according to Paul.

Of course, asking Mike/Gabe was pretty silly. There’s no real way to stop an angry mob once the torches are lit. He was fired from the account, and after being publicly shamed by most of the people he said had his back it’s unlikely he’ll work in the tech field handling PR ever again.

So why am I bringing this up? Not long ago, I saw a friend retweet an author saying that you should remember that there’s no such thing as bad PR, that even a bad review is getting your name out there. Which is half-true.

Bad PR won’t hurt you if it’s about a product (well at least if it’s a product that can’t kill you). You can always write a new book, or make something new. But if the bad PR is about you specifically? It’s not so easy to start over.

Thankfully, bad PR about yourself is easy to avoid. Don’t be a jerk. And never send off a quick response, especially if you’re annoyed. Blog comments and emails aren’t private. It only takes a moment for someone to share them, and then… you never know what’ll happen next. Maybe it’ll be ignored, but if it’s bad enough, people will share it. That’s what the internet does. It’s what Facebook and Twitter have made second nature.

From past incidents, I’ve learned that you never respond to bad reviews. It will end badly, even if you’re a published author. Especially if you’re a published author. People will think what they think, and hopefully you can learn something for your next project (or fix an error in a file, if that’s the case). But realistically, once a project is out of your hands… you’re done. Succeed where George Lucas has failed, and once something is done, even if you think a scene is weak resist the temptation to change it. (Honestly George, it doesn’t matter that technology wasn’t where you wanted it for the original Star Wars trilogy- we already love it. Stuff fussing with our memories!)

Not too long ago I blogged about expectation and rating things, a post which stemmed from reading about a self-published author who posted a missive about how to review a book on her blog. A woman who felt like you should be generous with your 5-star reviews on Amazon, especially if you know the person. And that as an author it was your job to game the review system to get your book noticed.

It’s hard, we all want to succeed- but it took that one post for a lot of the writing community to roll their eyes and say that she was giving them a bad name. Especially those who put a lot of thought into their reviews. Every explanation she had for why she had meant her post to be taken differently (as explaining the system, not saying that you’re entitled to review everything highly) just seemed like backpedaling to try to keep an annoyed mob away.

Cross Stitch by Craftster Menolly07. The QR code works.

Cross Stitch by Craftster Menolly07

My rule of thumb is that I never publish a blog post without stepping away and coming back. I usually read it out loud to help catch errors that I missed while reading it. If it’s blogging about anything that upset me, or replying to an email or comment that drives me up the wall… I do the same thing. I wait until I’ve calmed down before sharing it. Just to make sure that what I post is what I mean to say- and that I’m not asking to become the next flameworthy target. While I haven’t put a project out there yet… I know I’m going to check my reviews. But I vow to never respond to them unless I really think my response is a good reflection on me and my work. It’s just not worth it to lose my cool and my reputation.

In short, just follow Wheaton’s Law- Don’t Be a Dick. It’s amazing how far that’ll get you in life.

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Oddly, I had this post schedule to go up later today. And I saw this post tweeted by a woman who reviews books. Yes, it’s an author who saw a negative review of her book and decided to go off on anyone who gives negative reviews.

Remember, reviews are not for the person who created it. They are for the people who might want to buy. They’re based on an opinion, and if you can glean something useful… fine. If something didn’t ring true to the reader, then it didn’t- it doesn’t matter if it was based off your own life. Going off on a rant and calling someone beyotch for not enjoying your book in a rant that doesn’t contain any paragraph breaks isn’t going to help you sell your next book. (Update: She felt bad about calling the reviewer beyotch, but not so much about insisting that negative reviews don’t serve a purpose other than to hurt authors’ feelings. Then she started deleting comments, and now she’s deleted the original post, which is why I’m linking to a screenccap rather than the blog post. Update to Update: Apparently she deleted the first version, but I believe it’s cached in Google already)

So really, if you can find a way to reply with dignity, do it. If not, just move on!

  • Constance Chamberlain

    An author friend of mine once got a bad review on a site where the review was entirely posted in Haiku.  She responded, in Haiku, and thanked the review for her opinions but hoped she would give it a second chance, and enjoy the upcoming sequel.

    The response was overwhelmingly positive in her favor. She responded in a classy, appropriate way and addressed the review’s concerns. Several people had stated they were so impressed by her handling of the situation that they would give her book a glance whereas they would not have before.

  • http://www.whitneydrake.com Whitney Drake

    Well that’s brilliant!  I just haven’t heard many successful retorts by authors.  It would seem that few people sleep on it before replying.