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The Enduring Power of Good PR

By Robin Hackett, Account Manager, Ingredient Communications

A Russian news website named City Reporter once carried out an experiment in which, for 24 hours, it published only good news. The result was sadly predictable: readership for that day plummeted by two-thirds.

Bad news sells, and even the ingredients industry is not exempt. If there is new research suggesting certain ingredients may not offer all the health benefits that had previously been suggested, newspapers and websites will readily share that news with their readers.

There is some good news, though. If positive messages are well communicated over a sustained period, their impact can be surprisingly difficult to shake off, so it’s important not to panic when bad news breaks. Consumers will often retain their belief in the health benefits of ingredients even if they see negative stories.

Last year, Ingredient Communications commissioned expert pollsters Surveygoo to carry out some research into consumer attitudes that underlined the point.

We asked 946 consumers in the UK and US which health benefits they associated with Omega 3, with ‘maintaining a healthy heart’ emerging as the top choice at 51.2%.

Six months later, a study was published that found little evidence that taking Omega 3 supplements had benefits for cardiovascular health, generating media coverage through Reuters, CNN, The New York Times, The Sun and Daily Telegraph among others.

We subsequently went back to UK and US consumers to see what impact the story had. Just under a third (32.7%) of the 927 respondents said they were aware of the study. However, the overall perception of Omega 3’s cardiovascular benefits was in fact found to have improved, with 54.7% now associating it with maintaining a healthy heart.

As part of the same research, we asked consumers about probiotics. In between the two surveys, a study had been published suggesting probiotics may not be as effective as previously believed.

While 27% of respondents said they had been aware of the study, our second survey found that consumer perceptions of probiotics’ various benefits had increased in every case. Maintaining a healthy digestive system was up from 62.2% to 65%. Boosting the immune system saw a marginal rise from 36.5% to 36.8%. And enhancing brain health increased from 9.2% to 12.2%.

Our findings highlight the huge value of maintaining the flow positive news over a sustained period. While different studies can provide different conclusions, clinical research has regularly pointed to the health benefits of Omega 3 and probiotics – and that message has been communicated effectively for a long time. Our research shows that consumers are resilient and don’t make up their minds, or change their opinion, just because of an occasional, isolated negative study that goes against the grain.

The point is that good PR can stand the test of time. By reinforcing the right messages, it’s possible not only to create the right impression, but to make sure it sticks.