The New Case for Publicity Stunts

19 05 2010

I think many of us have been conditioned to believe that publicity stunts are cheap parlor tricks, something superficial meant to get a surface-level response that fails to build a true mutually beneficial relationship with an organization’s stakeholders. Publicity stunts may get a bad rep because they’re a hallmark of the dreaded Press Agentry model of public relations (in which the media is used to unfairly push an organization’s agenda on the public).

And while this may be true–planning an event just to get media coverage and the consequential attention it garners is a superficial strategy–new media opens up a new realm of value for publicity-engendering activities. Take this reenactment of Ghostbusters at the New York Public Library.

This charade has publicity stunt all over it…but it arguably has more sincerity and true entertainment value than traditional publicity stunts. New media technology has created a new, original venue for entertainment. The diverse array of entertainment opportunities has created not only more opportunities for attention, but arguably more opportunities for org-public relationship-building. A “stunt” like this stands to build an emotional connection between the public and the NYPL, through a recognition of the library’s significance in cinema. In this way, the NYPL and publics who watch (or experience first hand) this reenactment share a connection built around entertainment, further engendering a relational connection.

New media’s influence on public relations, and in this case, it’s opportunities it provides for building relationships around entertainment, should be welcomed, rather than written off as cheap parlor tricks.

Now, for a follow-up, I’d like to see the Library employ symmetrical book stacking “Just like the Philadelphia mass turbulence of 1947″…because no human being would stack books like this.


The NBA: It’s PR-Tastic!

5 03 2009

you’ve got to love the NBA. With each new season, David Stern seems to out-do himself in reaching out to the broadening and emerging publics that support (or could support) the NBA.  In a stunning new move, the NBA introduced Noche Latina or an appreciation night for all things Latino.

In response, several teams donned jerseys in Spanish…well almost (including my Lakers):ept_sports_nba_experts-256693482-1236181230Nice move by an organization that recognizes its rapidly expanding public-base. But, I would have liked to see them take it a step further. Adding a “los” to the team name doesn’t exactly equate spanish translation. I say: don’t hold back NBA, let’s translate the names completely:

Los del Lago (the Lakers)

Los Sol (the Suns)

Los Caliente (the Heat)

Los Cohetes (the Rockets): which is an interesting case in and of itself, as the Rockets added a Chinese flair to their jersey and logo as soon as they drafted Yao Ming several years ago…so, I guess you could call them the first Chinese-Hispanic fusion team!


Forget the jersey, let’s talk about a FedEx Holiday

17 02 2009

As you probably know, I love highlighting unique cases of public relations where public interest and opinion clash with corporate agenda.

I found one such example browsing sports news this morning. In an unprecedented display of love for a Fortune 500 company, Memphis opted out of flying the corporate colors of FedEx on a special FedEx appreciation night. Apparently, the jersey (pictured below), would cause a local and national enrage about capitalism gone awry…

Well, I say, what’s worse? Displaying the corporate colors or dedicating an night to “appreciate FedEx”? I mean, isn’t it bad enough that FedEx has now become a verb for sending package (even when we plan on sending it via UPS)? Why aren’t we talking about turning a non-commercial basketball exhibition into a corporate-endorsed activity? Euro jerseys don corporate emblems, and NASCAR drivers are ad incarnates for their sponsors. I guess if you consider this is an NCAA-no-corporate-endorsements-allowed event, then you can say otherwise…

But at issue here, says I, is why aren’t we questioning FedEx Appreciation night? Maybe it’s a matter of diverting attention with this about-face on using the corporate colors on the jersey. You may disagree with me, but backing off on using the corporate colors sure looks like they’re diverting attention, and it seems like the type of stuff that gets PR practitioners derided rather than praised…

Surprise, Surprise

30 01 2009

AP NEWS ALERT: Exxon Mobil shatters US record for annual profit

The economy is down to a 25-year low. Layoffs are at an all time high. And somehow, Exxon Mobil is turning a profit…and not just a good profit, but its breaking ITS OWN RECORD for a US Company.

Somehow, I don’t think many of us are surprised. In fact, I don’t think any level of public affairs can change the brewing suspicion that Exxon Mobil has been pillaging our wallets. Piracy at the gas pump.

Creating Recognition for Employee Recognition

15 08 2008

Long it has been argued that, in spite of exponentially larger budgets that marketing and advertising maintain, that public relations activities actually have a more profound effect on corporate brand, reputation, and even consumer behavior. I recently put together a case study of one such organization that uses public relations to build a successful brand: O.C. Tanner.

The article was published today in PRSA’s PR Journal, my first article published in a peer-reviewed journal. Have a look:

Afraid of Transparency?

15 06 2008

David Stern

I’ve blogged on this topic before, but since I’m an avid NBA fan, I can’t help but touch on the ongoing NBA controversy. David Stern seems adamant on toeing the line on his stance on officiating in NBA games: Rule number 1) the Referees may be human, but they are always right 2) If any doubt arises, refer to rule number 1. It’s almost as if the Commisar (I like that title for Stern better than Commish) is putting everything on the integrity of his refs. And for a sport that is SO influenced by officiating (Curt Schilling in his blog of Game 2 of the finals said refs determine the game more than any other sport), this may make sense…or does it?

Tim Donaghy, the referee who reportedly bet on NBA games he officiated, came out this week claiming other NBA games were fixed…Stern’s reaction? Donaghy’s just a convicted felon taking everyone he can down with him to save himself. It’s almost as if Stern is afraid of being open and upfront with his most important public: the NBA fan. As more and more allegations come out reinforcing suspicions by NBA fans, Stern continues to toe the line. Maybe it’s time for the NBA to open up to the fans and not only allow NBA scrutiny, but openly discuss the league’s own scrutiny of its refs. If nothing else has been learned about communication technology in 21st century business–the most important lesson is this: The public WILL be informed whether you like it or not, it’s up to you to decide who’s going to inform them. And in a transparency focused society, that informant had better be you, or you’re going to be staring down the barrel of a public relations disaster.

What is PR and Why on Earth does it Matter?

11 06 2008

About a year ago, I was having a conversation with someone about my current academic endeavor. After telling this individual that I was currently working on my Ph.D., the following brief interaction took place:

Him: So, what are you getting your Ph.D. in?

Me: Public Relations

Him: Wow, you can get a Ph.D. in that now?

Needless to say, the conversation was short, but it made me think. I ignored his apparent ignorance on the value of a Ph.D. in PR (it’s one of the fastest growing needs at universities and organizations increasingly need research-proven individuals to help them manage this complex environment of public-organization interaction). Frankly, I’m used to responses like this (which is why I commonly say my Ph.D. is in Communication, which it is…), but the whole interaction has got me thinking…what does PR mean to everyone else. I’ve come up with 4 categorizations, two from the general public perspective, two from a business perspective…first the public

1. Public Relations is Spin. I can’t say how annoying it is to read this somewhere. It’s out-dated, it’s antiquated, and it’s usually something someone who has no idea what PR is says. In fact, such a person would call it PR and not public relations, as in, “that’s just PR”. At the same time, this is probably still a valid opinion…because some PR practitioner out there still thinks his or her job is about spinning stories in the company’s favor.

2. Public Relations is lip service. Seemingly related to point number one, this one has a point of departure, and that is in the way organizations actually RESPOND to the general pub’s concerns. On some level, yes, organizations use PR to pay lip service to what people want to hear, but on a slightly higher level, PR is, to the general public, the body that carries out socially responsible endeavors for the community.

Now…the business perspective…

3. Public Relations is Promotion: This perspective seems like the most common. Public relations is a disguised form of marketing, and comprises everything that the company does that is not paid for as or by advertising. For example, sponsoring an event, giving away some free product, or reaching out to blogs to sponsor contests. In other words, PR is marketing that seems like it’s more than just marketing.

4. Public Relations is Strategic Management: On higher business levels, PR is about strategic management of corporate image and reputation. It’s more than just branding, it’s working out the organization’s existence–and the legitimacy for its existence–in the global community. This part comprises everything from gathering reputation issues, listening to customers and activist groups alike, and then advocating the interests of the public to the organization, and that of the organization to the public. At this level, PR is total communication management, from issues management to crisis response to whatever fits in between.

And…now…one bonus point for good measure

5. Public Relations is building relationships with stakeholders, or people who affect or are affected by an organization’s decisions. This one is by far the most intriguing, because up until this point, this seems like a very academic (read: unaccessible) definition of public relations. For those of us in the Ivy Towers, this makes sense. Yes, PR is for building relationships…there you have it! But practically speaking, what does it entail? What does it preclude? Can you really hire someone and say, “Welcome to the PR position…now, go build relationships with people who affect or are affected by our decisions!”? Not really. Now, there are plenty of studies revealing what goes into building relationships, but as of yet, it seems like there is no set of practical guidelines or instructions for a new PR person to jump in and start working (at least, in the same way that “PR practitioner as news provider and press release writer” has).

Now, my rambling is done…but, when all is said and done, I think PR Research has to go further than just saying, “It’s about building relationships” we have to establish standard operating procedures.