Manufacturing Controversy to Drum Up Public Relations

Everyone has heard about KFC’s major Oprah goof where so many people requested a free two-piece meal of the fast food company’s new grilled chicken, it simply wasn’t able to meet demand. Local news outlets aired footage of people being turned away from stores. Signs taped to store windows apologized that they can’t accept the free coupons at this time. The company responded with a rain check process involving forms to be filled out.

A friend of mine suggested this may have been planned. If the company simply gave away free chicken, it would have merited a few pickups by local and national media. Look at what the company received instead: major press by nearly all media. There was no major backlash. The company’s product was just too popular. The chicken is so good, everyone wanted some. If this was planned, it was a gamble — but one that appears to have paid off for the company. The news even buried the fact that the company once again appeared near the bottom of First Quarter American Customer Satisfaction Index in the Accommodation & Food Services sector.

Next comes the American Idol controversy that AT&T skewed the finale outcome by providing free phones for texting votes at parties held for one of the contestants. Even a close read appears to show there’s nothing really there. However, the media’s coverage of responses by Fox, producers, and AT&T only seems to fan the media flames. I’m not a conspiracy theorist but the fact that American Idol’s ratings are falling, this controversy does provide a great distraction to advertisers, sponsors, and media alike.

I think claims that these controversies are engineered gives too much credit to big companies with no track record of controlling news whether good or bad. The risk or downside is just too great. However, I think the idea of manufacturing controversy is an interesting one and merits analysis. To give another big organization with a sketchy track record of controlling news, the U.S. government is often accused of manufacturing a controversy to defuse or confuse the masses. I think history shows lots of attempts but few successes in this area. I welcome comments and objections to the contrary.

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit:

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