Crisis PR — action or accurate?

When a PR crisis strikes, the normal inclination is to “get ahead of the story.”  Getting ahead of the story means talking about the issues at hand before the media does, so you control the message.

However, talking about the issues without making sure you know what the issues are, is a mistake.

The first rule of crisis PR is to get the facts.  If you don’t know all the facts it is best to tell the press you need to get the facts and then you’ll talk.

Many companies fear that this will appear as though they are hiding something.  We almost never advise against using the words, “no comment.”  But there are ways to not comment without saying no comment.  What the media often want is access to those at the center of the controversy, but if those persons have nothing new to report, the media usually will give the time necessary to get the facts and then comment.

Certainly there is a limit to the patience the media have.  Depending on how large a crisis we’re talking about, there will come a time when the media will conclude that the facts should be in by now.  Then they will get aggressive and if you don’t address the issues, they will find others who will. That is something you don’t want.

The lesson is to think clearly, get the facts and put together a plan.  And, just because it is okay to not speak immediately, it never is okay to never speak.  Yes, sometimes a crisis will just go away.  But one thing that should never be put off is developing a strategy, even if that strategy is to say nothing.

PR / Marketing 101 — How to get the most from your agency

What makes for a good PR agency – client relationship?   Allow me to briefly describe perhaps the most notable and successful agency-client relationship in advertising history.

In 1935 a man by the name of Leo Burnett opened an advertising agency in Chicago. Then,  Chicago was not the place to be if you were in the advertising business.  It of course was Madison Avenue in New York.  But Burnett had different ideas.

For the first 10 years he did okay, not great.  But then the agency took off, eventually growing to become one of the top 10 largest ad agencies in America.

The client example I am getting to is when Leo Burnett Company, Inc. landed the Kellogg’s account in 1949.  Working with Kellogg’s was the birth of a long line of characters that we all grew up with.  Burnett is credited with creating Tony the Tiger,  The Jolly Green Giant,  The Pillsbury Doughboy, and The Marlboro Man.

The Burnett relationship with Kellogg’s has lasted decades and to the best of my knowledge continues to today.  That’s remarkable.  In a business when the average ad agency-client relationship is a few years, representing the same client for 60 years is virtually unheard of.  (It does happen, by the way, as I continue to represent one client going on 27 years.)

To what does Burnett attribute this long-last relationship?  According to one Burnett executive, the two companies will get together for creative sessions and they will scream and yell at one another, arguing for their ideas to be heard.  Because Burnett knows that the relationship is solid and will go on, they have the freedom to be as creative, forceful and loud as they want because they know — “the business is not on the table.”

That means the Burnett people are not afraid to speak their minds for fear of losing the account.  Whether it is an advertising, public relations or marketing firm, most firms are overly careful to speak their minds and be wildly creative for fear they will be fired.  If the agency is able to put that fear aside, what’s left is innovative, creative and effective marketing, advertising and PR.

A PR firm can’t ask a client to promise that they will work together forever.  But when a client has confidence in their PR/marketing consultant, and allows them the freedom to do their best work, the result will almost always be work that achieves the client’s goals and objectives.


Prank-vertising — Selling via ambush

As companies search for new avenues to reach their target audiences, they are finding that a viral YouTube video may be the most cost-effective way to go.

Case in point is the latest YouTube video promoting the movie “Carrie.”  Instead of traditional newspaper and TV ads that try to scare people to see the movie, the studio created a fake scenario to scare real people.  YouTube viewers are let in on the prank from the start.  We see a small New York cafe transformed with fake walls and remote controlled furniture.  Then the place is filled with actors pretending to be customers.  When a real customer comes in, the main actor, a woman, pretends to go ballistic because the guy sitting next to her (a stuntman) spills coffee on her laptop.  She rises and uses her telekinetic powers to throw him up a wall, move furniture and have books fall off the shelves — all controlled by a hidden crew.

You can see the video here:

The reactions of the “real” customers are what makes the video compelling and funny.  People think she really has telekinetic powers and are stunned.  After we’ve had our laugh, it is revealed that the prank was to promote the movie.

In three days the video garnered upwards of 25 million views and climbing.

If we are to believe the YouTube numbers, and there is no reason not to, 25 million people viewed and/or shared the video.  And a good chunk of the 25 million learned briefly about the movie “Carrie.”

While the gag was to prank the coffee shop customers — for our entertainment — the real prank was to fool YouTube watchers because it is not revealed that we were set up to be sold a movie.  There are enough pranks on the web to believe someone went to all the trouble to set this up without a hidden agenda.  But, not surprisingly, we’re being fooled.

This marketing ploy is not new.  It also is well done, gets the message across and is effective in attracting more attention to a movie than typical ads.

And it proves the point that in today’s world where we are continually bombarded with messages, cutting through the clutter is critical.  It also says something about our attention span, where we are most receptive to messaging and of course what gets our attention.

Bottom line — be different and creative.

Obamacare: The branding of a President

Every president of the United States is a historical figure.  For good or bad, they are remembered as making history in some way or another.

Students memorize the presidents in order.  Some even write papers about what they accomplished, or what they messed up.

But rarely is a president remembered as a brand or a product.  But that is exactly what is happening with Barack Obama, and will continue for centuries to come.  Not only will his name live on as a president of the U.S., but it will live on as Obamacare, otherwise more officially known as The Affordable Care Act.

Long into the future, people will call their healthcare Obamacare.  Like Medicare, it will become an integral part of our lexicon even though it really doesn’t exist as an entity.   It already has.

Whether Obamacare proves to be a positive or negative, at least President Obama has achieved something no other president has ever been able to:  making his a household name that will live on in our daily language and lives.