Why is it that the majority of national news is negative? And why are we so drawn to it? It seems like the majority of good story telling is told with an edge or a negative element to it. Just as a novel or movie needs conflict, it seems, so do news stories.

Humans may neurologically predisposed towards focusing on negative information because the potential costs of negative information far outweigh the potential benefits of positive information.”- Stuart Soroka

Despite the increase in attention, as businesses, we try to avoid negative press at all costs. But is negative press always bad?

It’s likely that at some point your business will eventually face some type of negative press.

It could be something major like a product defect such as the Samsung Note 7, or something small, like a misquote on social media. PR disasters are rarely predictable and often damaging, but the way you respond to a disaster can completely change its eventual outcome. Depending on the severity of the event, there may be lasting damage to your brand, but if you address the issues and view it as an opportunity, you can harness bad press in your favor.

Before the Internet, PR disasters were best addressed by limiting the potential reach. Withholding details, speaking ambiguously, and decreasing the number of publications covering the story were all important strategies that could limit the number of people that see/hear the story.

Today, everything is instantly available online. Even if you take an article or tweet off the web within seconds of its publication, there’s a chance it could have already been shared or ‘screen-grabbed’. Companies that try to hide facts or delete posts are often called out on their secretive efforts, generating more negative attention and an even harsher blow to their brand’s reputation.

So long as there is a consistent positive message, the negative public reaction to the event will eventually fade and so will the association. However the brand recognition will stay. The physiological explanation of this is the “Sleeper effect”. If the message is positive (be that a product or service) but the brand or person delivering it has a credibility problem, over time, the negative perception will go, but the positive messages will stay.

Three professors from Wharton and Stanford published research on this subject in 2010. In the journal they discussed the positive effects on negative publicity and produced a study on New York Times book reviews. Using the data that cross-matched book sales against critics appraisals, they found that negative reviews of a new book by an established author hurt sales, but for books by relatively unknown authors, negative publicity had the opposite effect.

“Most companies are concerned with one of two problems, Either they’re trying to figure out how to get the public to think their product is a good one, or they’re just trying to get people to know about their product. In some markets, where there are lots of competing products, they’re more preoccupied with the latter. In that case, any publicity, positive or negative, turns out to be valuable.” – Alan Sorensen

In spite of the harmful elements to it, Negative PR can provide huge SEO value. The idea of harnessing bad publicity to benefit your own SEO efforts was built on the fact that a strong search presence relies on good quality backlinks.

Typically a bad news story about your business will generate a substantial amount of links. For example, a link from a highly authoritative site, such as a national newspaper will work wonders for your domain authority. As a consequence, your website will start to rank higher up in the search engines.

If you submit a press release announcing or responding to some negative event, it’s incredibly likely you’ll be picked up by a variety of syndication channels, which will only lead to more web traffic and more links. Submitting a press release also gives you an opportunity to publicly respond. Plus, whenever someone searches for the incident, it’s better to see a title like: “Company apologises over offensive tweet” rather than: “Company yet to apologise over offensive tweet.”

A lot of brands walk the line with controversial PR and advertising. It’s what helps generate good stories and, for the most part, helps them succeed. Sometimes it’s difficult to step out of a brand voice and create something that gets people talking.

Not everyone can do this. Being provocative for the sake of it doesn’t always mean your website will be flooded with traffic, as you could ultimately put people off. Flirting with this line and spinning negative press however could turn a bad brand experience into a positive one.