Can You Say Something Negative About Your Competition?

I recently came across an article offering “15 Tips for Media Training Success” by Arthur Solomon, a PR pro with more than three decades of experience. His list is chock full of solid advice, including:

2. Keep in mind that the great majority of reporters are cordial people who are not out to harm you. They just want to get a story that will satisfy their editors and go home to their family.

7. Just because a reporter puts away a notebook or turns off a tape recorder doesn’t mean the interview is over and you can say anything without it being used.

15. And most important, never lie to a reporter.

But I disagree with one piece of advice he dispensed, and wanted to explore that point further here.


Should you ever say something negative about your competition?


In his point number ten, Mr. Solomon wrote:

10. Never say anything negative about an individual or company.

I suspect I know what he’s saying. If you say something negative about an individual or a company, you can be almost guaranteed that the reporter will use that quote, drowning out everything else you said in your interview.

But what if you want the reporter to say something negative about a company or individual? For example, consider the story I wrote recently about a woman who wanted the company that owned a neighboring property to cut down a dangerous tree. By mentioning the company’s name, she introduced conflict into the story; since conflict is catnip for reporters, the story got coverage.

Or consider Slacker Radio, a small Internet radio company that knocks Pandora Radio, a much larger competitor, in its ads? Or the search engine Bing, which names Google in its commercials? Or Samsung’s epic ads that mock iPhone users (below)?

Or, more famously, let’s say you’re the number two soft drink brand hoping to siphon some sales from the number one soft drink brand. Pepsi has used the “Pepsi Challenge” for a brilliant series of ads since the 1970s—and it wouldn’t have worked if Pepsi didn’t show Coke’s brand in the ad. (Readers of a certain age will enjoy seeing Welcome Back, Kotter’s Gabe Kaplan in the ad below.)

I would modify Mr. Solomon’s advice slightly: Never say anything negative about an individual or company unless doing so is pre-planned, deliberate, and consistent with your communications strategy.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.