No Such Thing As Bad Publicity? Lessons to learn from Malaysia’s colourful track record


The notion of bad publicity has been and still is a very much debatable topic. Media attention received can be either positive, neutral or negative (and unless you are Kanye West whose career thrives on negative publicity), negative media attention usually doesn’t end up well. Need evidence? Here you go. Below are the lessons we gathered from Malaysia’s series of unfortunate events.

Exhibit A – Hitman, Malaysia edition:

If your news feed has not been flooded with updates on Kim Jong Nam’s assassination at KLIA2, you need to grab some popcorn and start scrolling on Twitter.  The plot drastically thickened from what was initially the death of North Korea dictator’s half-brother to murder involving international female assassins, alleged break-in attempts of the morgue holding Kim’s body and North Korea blaming Malaysia for conspiring with ‘hostile forces’. Reports of such paint a worrisome picture on public safety in Malaysia and the country’s foreign relations with the nuke heavy republic.

Exhibit B – Unresolved financial scandal:

Aside from the marvellous sceneries, friendly people and the abundance of natural resources, one thing people couldn’t stop talking about for quite a while was the financial scandal linking Leonardo DiCaprio’s hit film “The Wolf of Wall Street” to allegations of misappropriation of funds in 1 Malaysia Development Bhd. Among a myriad of reasons, the issue received close attention worldwide due to its magnitude and suspected implication of notable personalities. Even if later investigations can prove that the allegations were false, long-term negative exposures have made the public predisposed to be awfully sceptical about the government’s future announcements of strategic ventures.

Exhibit C – Tragic plane crash:

Malaysia Airlines expectedly received a great deal of negative media attention due to the MH370 crisis and the mishandling of the entire situation. Communications were inconsistent and at times indifferent, leaving much room for speculations. As a result, the airline experienced high cancellation rate and with sales in China fallen by 60 percent in a month. To make things worse, the nation was ridiculed when a self-proclaimed VIP shaman proceed to perform locating spells with coconuts, fish trap, bamboo binoculars, and what appeared to be a magic carpet. If that is not bad publicity, we do not know what is.

It is undeniable that Malaysia has had it rough for the past few years, however, how publicity is managed influences the outcome. The example of Tony Fernandes addressing the media after the crash of QZ8501 demonstrates just that:

The great challenge lies with PR specialists in deciphering the many complexities of publicity and formulating the right communication strategy for the situation.Remember that, publicity is a sharp knife, you can either use it to cut yourself a slice of pie or leave yourself to starve, just don’t cut yourself.

For examples of how brands capitalise on publicity, read our article on the Joseph Schooling Publicity Bandwagon

Drop us a message if you have any thoughts to share or if you need some publicity help.