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Which headlines to ignore

A challenge of our social era is that it is hard to ignore headlines, but more necessary than ever before. The challenge of good PR judgment is knowing what headlines matter, and which don’t.

WeightWatchers copped bad headlines when it sent a lightbulb to female journalists encouraging them to leave the light on when having sex. The teaser was for a recruitment campaign based on research that showed that a quarter of Australian women had avoided sex because of body self-consciousness.

About a dozen journalists and bloggers tweeted their outrage, then concocted a story by scraping together each other’s tweets.

Headlines claimed “WeightWatchers slammed over sex campaign”, and journalists wrote that it was “a rather offensive approach to recruiting more customers”. What would you do?

Our first consideration is the organisation’s customers – in this case chiefly the potential new members whose worry about body shape influences how they feel about sex. The campaign message is likely to resonate.

Our second consideration is the mainstream public – which contain future customers and influencers. We estimate that the main reactions would be either ambivalence or silent empathy.

We can measure that assessment against early reactions. In this case, there were almost zero responses on social media or online comment to the news stories. Of those few, they were almost all supportive of the idea that body image would influence enjoyment of sex.

So this was clearly outrage in a bubble. The only real PR problem was that a handful of vociferous journalists and bloggers were stewing.

That led to a confused reaction from WeightWatchers. It initially told complaining journalists “we recognise that the teaser campaign fell flat… and the campaign has been discontinued”.

A few days later WeightWatchers was defending the campaign in the way it originally should; as “something some of its Members – and the public – want to talk about.”  Indeed, the recruitment campaign is still running.

You can, and ought to, ignore the headlines – the trick is choosing which ones.

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