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Why ‘bad press’ is a bad EMS strategy

Assess any publicity or marketing efforts to ensure congruence to your mission, goals, and audience

One of my favorite quotes is “the only bad press is an obit.” Not surprisingly it’s credited to the over-the-top hall of fame basketball player Dennis Rodman.

I think there’s public relations validity to the statement depending on your goals. But I’m disgusted by the fact that some companies purposely and strategically try to offend people with bad press as a way to grow their brand or create buzz.

Not long ago a clothing company pulled a stunt that resulted in countless news stories and a social media trending story. They marketed a Kent State University throwback sweatshirt with what appeared to be red blood splatters. The company made the dubious claim that they didn’t intend for it to be a reference to the May 4, 1970 incident when four college students were killed by national guardsmen while protesting the Vietnam War and stopped selling the sweatshirt.


As a graduate of Kent State, I concede that I may be more annoyed by this than most. I was born after the shootings occurred, but I walked by the memorial daily on my way to class. I was a student during the 25th anniversary.

This isn’t the first time, nor the first controversy, that this company has created for itself. It appears that they made a calculated decision to purposely offend people to generate buzz. They likely did the math and figured Kent State was a safe controversy, as that generation to which was so effected by the events at Kent State don’t likely shop for clothes at their stores, which are geared towards younger audiences.

Can you imagine the same publicity stunt using a more recent school shooting tragedy? Like a Virginia Tech or Columbine sweatshirt? If they had, it would have upset their current customers, resulting in lost revenue — which is why they’re unlikely to make that “mistake.”

Which brings me back to the Dennis Rodman quote. Yes, the idea that “the only bad press is an obit” still works for many companies, as their target audience may like the controversy.

However, I’ve yet to find an EMS agency that should adopt the strategy.

It doesn’t matter if an agency is doing something that will be seen by media, customers, partners, patients or employees — always consider the following checklist:

  • What goals are you trying to achieve?
  • Does your publicity effort match those goals?
  • How might your well-intentioned effort be misconstrued or misunderstood by the interest groups your serve?
  • Is there anything you can do to minimize potential risk while still meeting the goals of the publicity effort?

Fear shouldn’t stop your EMS agency from talking to media, or trying to get your organization positive awareness in the community. Just be prepared to self-moderate some ideas and remove some of the edginess to ensure your efforts create the positive impact you desire.

Josh Weiss served as the national Director of Public Relations for Rural/Metro Corporation, a leading national provider of private ambulance and fire protection services, and as Director of Communications and Public Affairs for American Traffic Solutions, a national leader in traffic safety cameras. In the past 15 years, Josh has worked with hundreds of external and internal clients including public and private companies in the healthcare and technology industries, government municipalities, police and fire Departments, and community organizations to build positive brands and manage reputations. He now operates 10 to 1 Public Relations.

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