Tapping emotions is a time-honored tactic in PR and marketing. This can involve fear-mongering. Scaring folks can be a great attention-getter, particularly if you are promoting solutions in areas like cyebrsecurity, public safety and infrastructure protection.
The reasons relate to psychology and business. We are wired to respond to emotions vs. logic, blame our reptilian brains. Further, people are more concerned about avoiding losses than gaining benefits. The news business understands these factors and their role in attracting audiences.
However, over the years we’ve had quite a few clients who did not want us to lead with negativity or fear in our PR pitches. We’ve sometines had to push back, as we know these are the angles that can draw attention.
It can be a controversial area, and opinions vary in the PR industry as to how and when to use fear or newsjack tragedy, or even if to do so at all.
Since it is Halloween, I thought it would be good to ask our teams:
- Why does fear work in PR?
- When (and when not) to use it?
- Any examples?
Here are some answers that I got:
Watch the TV news any night of the week. Is it full of happy news? Of course not. It’s all shootings, riots and political arguments (and sports and weather). The cliché “If it bleeds, it leads” is even more relevant now as media outlets struggle to retain their readerships in a never-ending news cycle with dozens or hundreds of online competitors.
WHY ‘if it bleeds, it leads?’ It’s all of our fault. At some point, news stations realized that “action” “eyewitness” news with lots of tragedy and mayhem attracts more eyeballs than other kinds of news reports.
Clients may want to ‘go positive,’ but no reporter is going to care. You need to present a problem for them to care about your solution. But keep in mind that there are different levels of FUD (fear, unceretainty, doubt); you don’t need to go all-out all the time. Also, do NOT use fear immediately after a tragedy. That is extremely bad form.
When the Russia/Ukraine conflict began, we got one of our cybersecurity clients on several podcasts to discuss the threat of Russia attacking the critical infrastructure of Ukraine’s allies. The threat was just emerging, but we got ahead of the competition in discussing it and secured plenty of coverage.
We used the fear and uncertainty of extended theme park closures due to COVID (and what this unprecedented scenario meant for other businesses) to get our client into most top tier broadcast multiple times (CNBC Squawk Box, Fox business, NPR, etc.)
When something terrible happens (usually a tragedy) and your client does have a solution, it is SO important to capitalize on the opportunity but do so very carefully. For example, in the wake of a mass shooting, you can gently explain to media/ relevant personnel that the fear is valid, but there must be an actionable response or it will never go away. Specifically with our client — we never say we are the answer to the problem, only one small part of a potential solution, which I feel somewhat mitigates the promotional aspect of the pitch.