Amp Application Fails to “Score:” Is This PR?

December 13, 2009

In what one might call a PR attempt back in October, PepsiCo tried to promote their new energy drink, Amp, through the release of a new iPhone application called “Amp Up Before You Score.” The premise of the application was a program that would help men up their game as they tried to “score” with women.  Here’s out it worked:

“1. Identify Her Type
Got your eye on a girl, and aren’t sure how to get started? Pick out her profile, flip the card, and study up quick with a cheatsheet on the stuff she’s into, with lists, links and some surefire opening lines. (Surefire to what, we won’t say.)

2. Keep a List
Get lucky? Add her to your Brag List. You can include a name, date and whatever details you remember.

3. Brag
You got it? Flaunt it. Keep your buddies in the loop on email, Facebook or Twitter.
Here’s who you get:

Aspiring Actress
Foreign Exchange Student
Goth Girl
Indie Rock Girl
Military Girl
Out-Of-Your-League Girl
Political Girl
Punk Rock Girl
Rebound Girl
Sorority Girl
Women’s Studies Major”

Needless to say, this immediately caused blog storm by females who were insulted by the insensitivity to women. Giving guys tips on how to “score” with women and then brag about it on Twitter is, needless to say, utterly revolting. To women, at least. Maybe there were several jerk guys out there who were very excited about this app, but clearly PepsiCo was thinking about only one of its publics and ignoring the others. The blog storm continued to roll, so PepsiCo tweeted an apology saying:

“Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback.”

Not too bad of an apology, I would say. They acknowledged that their app might have been in bad taste and thanked everyone for their feedback. For whatever reason, they did not remove the app immediately after they tweeted this apology. As people were still blogging about it, PepsiCo realized that they needed to get rid of the app altogether and had it removed from the app store. The fuss quieted down after this, and PepsiCo got back to work trying to find a more appropriate way to promote their drink.

So while I am quite disappointed with PepsiCo’s initial PR attempt, I must say their response to their little crisis was quite effective and they pulled some pretty good PR. In the end though, it was a lose-lose situation, as PepsiCo did not get the response it wanted, and girls are probably still seething over the whole issue.


Six Dead Babies and a Text Message: Is This PR?

December 12, 2009

Earlier this year in China, several milk companies added melamine to the milk in order for it to have a higher protein content. At least six babies died and 290,000 became ill because of the addition to the milk. This was a huge crisis that put the company in a horrible light and had them facing trial for murder. And how did they deal with the crisis?

They apologized to the public in a mass text message.

Ok, so they also set up a compensation fund for families with babies still suffering from urinary problems and kidney stones, but STILL! A text message?  Babies are dead, and the company isn’t sensitive enough to at least make a public apology on the news? The president of the company and several other executives had to go on trial, and it looks like they’re facing life in prison. There was talk that they would get the death penalty, but that didn’t go through in court.

The more I think about it, maybe they don’t have public relations firms in China. Or maybe the executives at this company were just hoping that the babies who died would be girls so the family wouldn’t care that their child had died. Either way, this was an incredibly insensitive move on the company’s part and a very unwise PR move. Parents are continuing to protest as they are concerned since no one knows what kind of effects melamine could have on the children as they grow up. This problem only continues to get worse, and I think the text message made a the situation go from a crisis to a catastrophe.

I say this is a very poorly failed attempt at public relations, with a values-free approach.

The Silent Treatment: Is This PR?

December 9, 2009

 If it is, then it certainly bad PR.

I hardly need to bring you up to speed on what is going on with Tiger Woods right now. It is everywhere and everyone is talking about it. The only other scandal that is getting close to as much press is the Salahis and their party-crashing a state dinner in Washington. The responses from the subjects of these two stories could not be more different. The Salahis are reveling in the attention and suffering severe discomfort because Washington will not let them appear as guests on any television shows. Tiger, on the other hand, kept being quiet as a mouse until very recently. Why?

To give a short account of Tiger’s current public relations disaster, it all started with his car accident in which he ran into a fire hydrant and a tree. His wife supposedly beat the back window open with a golf club and helped him get out. He had minor cuts on his face, but nothing serious. All of that is what was first published in the earliest articles. This small incident, however, sparked a wildfire of rumors and speculation. Tiger remained mute, and his muteness led to even more rumors and speculation. What started out as a car crash turned into rumors of Tiger cheating on his wife and her having scratched his face, causing those “minor cuts.” Women all over the place have been saying that they slept with Tiger, and the count is starting to get very high. And yet Tiger still waited to say something.

Tiger has done an incredible job during his career to keep a squeaky-clean image. Yet now his perfect image is crashing down, hard. Public relations professionals keep saying that he needs to just man up and confess what he did and put a stop to all the speculation. In the statement he released on his website, Tiger apologized to everyone and denied the rumors about his wife being abusive, but did not make any clear confessions. While it is better than nothing, he really needs to do more. His reputation is very damaged, and it is going to take more than one statement on a website to fix it. He should have at least said all of that at a press conference. By just putting it in print, it almost seems like he is still hiding something.

During his years in the spotlight, Tiger got good at hiding things. But not so good at fixing them.

Chapter 11: The Digital Age

December 8, 2009

This was one of the more interesting chapters we’ve read thus far given that it is very relevant to everyday life. The book discusses how the digital revolution came about, and what the benefits and disadvantages of it are for public relations practitioners. The digital revolution certainly has affected both our personal and professional lives. Public relations practitioners face the difficulty of discerning how to use various social media networks to reach their publics. More and more, businesses like Wal-Mart and Best Buy are getting twitter accounts. Even churches have twitter and many pastors have Facebook accounts. It is strange to see how digitalized our world is becoming. Not only do you not have to read the newspaper to get your news, you don’t even need it for coupons and to find out about deals. Even regional grocery store chains like BI-LO have Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook accounts where they post about deals and potential savings. People, like myself, get suckered into joining mailing clubs by restaurants like Zaxby’s by being offered a free meal deal. All types of companies are getting increasingly more strategic, figuring out the best ways to lure people to their websites or to get them to buy their products by using the Internet to get to them.

One of the dangers of the Internet however, is that it is a double-edged sword. Companies may use it get attention and draw people in, but people can also use it to put up erroneous information or simply damaging information to a company’s reputation. This doesn’t only apply to companies either. Celebrities, such as Ashton Kutcher and Britney Spears, also have Twitter accounts that they use to set the record straight/keep their fans interested as they feed them information about their lives. But then you have bloggers like Perez Hilton who post every bit of celebrity gossip they can get their hands on. There are reputable sources for information, but the problem we face is that so many people turn to the less-reputable sources like blogs. I believe that companies or news studios created blogs in order to win those people back, but I’m not sure that they have been effective. Public relations practitioners are somewhere in the middle of all of this trying to get the information out that they want their publics to know while at the same time trying regulate the information that is being offered by damaging sources. One controversial blog can create a public relations disaster, so it is difficult to say whether the digital revolution was really worth it for people in public relations.

Chapter 9: Tactics

December 7, 2009

So we’ve covered research and planning. Now on to the practical aspect of public relations: tactics. Tactics are basically how you get the job done. You must come up with your tactics based on the research you have done. You want to (1) appeal to the values of your publics and (2) promote your own objective. The best tactics create win-win situations where everyone is pleased with the outcome. The chapter goes through various traditional publics and the various tactics used to reach them. When trying to reach the news media, some of the suggestions the text gives are news releases, media kits, pitches, news conferences, PSAs, and interviews.

Hollywood provides plenty examples of some of the more outrageous tactics used by movie studios. 20th Century Fox,, in an attempt to heighten media coverage about Ice Age III: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, had a 48-feet tall ice sculpture of Scrat built and put on display and they invited reporters to come see it. Universal Pictures flew reporters to Bora Bora for a lavish junket that cost twice the amount of a normal junket in order to promote their new film Couples Retreat. In the case of 20th Century Fox, they used an extravagant stunt that drew attention and thereby media coverage. Universal Pictures created an obvious win-win situation by pampering the reporters and at the same time finding away for the word about their new movie to be publicized. Both are very blatant PR tactics, completely lacking subtlety, yet both were reasonably effective. Universal Pictures estimated that they received four times the usual amount of media coverage. Not bad, for only paying twice the amount they usually would have.

PETA’s “We’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” Campaign: Is This PR?

November 28, 2009

PETA currently has an anti-fur campaign going on that is encouraging everyone to not buy anything with fur over the Christmas holidays.  The campaign has been supported by various celebrities who have posed for pictures nude or, in the case of Tai Babilonia, appeared nearly nude in public. While having people pose naked for pictures or go to public places in their underwear will get you attention, I don’t think it is the best kind of attention. PETA is obviously trying to get to the people who like to wear fur. Those people tend to be women, especially older women who would not appreciate all these images of naked people cropping up in places where their children could see them. PETA likes to go to extreme measures to get attention, but they have a way of turning people away from their cause rather than drawing them in.

On the other hand, their most recent recruit for posing nude – Tony Gonzalez, tight end for the Falcons – might have garnered some good PR, not for PETA, but for the Falcons. Ironically, Michael Vick was on the Falcons team when he was convicted of involvement with illegal dog fighting and served in prison for 23 months. The team suffered because of their former teammate’s poor choices. Now, however, they have Tony Gonzalez garnering some positive PR for them. He and his wife, October, posed nude for a picture that bore the banner “We’d rather Go Naked than Wear Fur.” Gonzalez’s support of PETA and its efforts is likely to mend the broken relationship between the Falcons and its publics who believe in animal rights.

So while PETA still needs has a lot to learn as far as how to create a successful public relations strategy, it would seem that Gonzalez got it right and the Falcons will be reaping the benefits. I do still find it ironic, however, that NFL footballs are made from cowhide.

An Apology plus Half a Billion Dollars: Is This PR?

November 27, 2009

Well, according to Goldman Sachs, no.

One thing everyone in America seems to agree upon is the fact that they hate Wall Street, and Goldman Sachs is one firm they particularly hate. Like most companies on Wall Street, Goldman received billions of dollars for a bailout last year when the economy crashed. Goldman has made an incredible financial comeback, but its public image has not. Goldman’s chief executive Lloyd Blankfein recently issued an apology, admitting that the company had made many mistakes and expressing regret for previous actions. Soon after, the company announced that it would be launching an initiative to help 10,000 small businesses that have suffered from the bad economy. This is going to cost Goldman around $500 million dollars. Goldman is insisting that this is not an attempt to relieve its public relations dilemma. This statement is not easy to believe given that only a little more than a week previously the company was on the receiving end of a great deal of criticism because of Blankfein’s statement that he was just a banker “doing God’s work.”

With Goldman’s current reputation, no matter what it does, everyone is going to assume that every move they make is an attempt to improve its image. Making an apology and then throwing out half a billion dollars for charity is without a doubt a very large public relations step. A previous charitable gift of $200 million dollars focused on education was perceived by the public as a ploy to improve the company’s image. So this even larger step is probably going to be perceived the exact same way, but in this case it might actually be a step forward instead of another step back. Helping 10,000 small companies is a big deal, and if no other publics’ opinions of Goldman improve, at least the employees of those 10,000 companies will.

With Goldman’s pitiful public relations state, no one act is going to clear its name. But this is a start. If Blankfein sticks to apologizing and stops talking about “God’s work” and the company continues to share its profits with everyone who is still suffering from the economic crisis, then Goldman just might have a chance at not being the villain anymore.

Chapter 8: Planning

November 24, 2009


To plan, or not to plan? If you are a public relations practitioner, the answer is always “to plan.” Chapter 8 focuses on the importance of planning. The most important part of a plan, however, is knowing the answer to this question: “What values-based outcome do you seek?” You have to know exactly what you’re looking for before you start searching, and you have to make sure it is in line with your client’s values as well as your own. There are three types of public relations plans: ad hoc plans, standing plans, and contingency plans. Ad hoc plans are temporary; they are not meant to last for very long. Standing plans, on the other hand, are plans intended to foster long-term relationships. Contingency plans are for emergencies. An example of this kind of plan is when KFC came up with an emergency plan for if/when the bird flu struck the United States. The bird flu never really struck the U.S., however, so they did not have to actually implement the plan. Their PR agents just had to make sure their publics knew they were going to be safe if the flu struck.

The structure of a good public relations plan consists of general goals, measurable objectives, strategies, and specific tactics. You start with a general goal, which states the outcome you intend your plan to achieve. From your goal you get your objectives, of which you usually have two or three. The objectives are a little more specific. According to the PRSA Accreditation Board, objectives are “specific milestones that measure progress toward achievement of a goal.” Once you have your objectives, you write your strategies, which are general statements describing your tactics. Finally, your tactics are your specific recommended actions. You usually have several tactics seeing as they are ultimately what you are proposing to do. Put all of your goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics together, and you have a plan.

The chapter ends by discussing what the qualities of a good plan are. First of all, it must support a specific goal of your organization. For example, in Chick-fil-a’s mission statement, it says that their goal is to be the best quick-service restaurant. So, any public relations plan would need to keep that primary goal in mind. Furthermore a good plan is realistic and flexible. There is no point in coming up with a brilliant plan if an organization does not have the budget to pay for it. The plan ought to be a win-win scenario. You want the end result to benefit your publics as well as your organization. Finally, a good plan must be values-driven. Going back to the Chick-fil-a example, in their corporate purpose statement they say that they seek to “glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us.” If their public relations practitioners then told Chick-fil-a to do something that went against their religious values, it would be completely pointless. A values-driven approach is probably the most important part of any plan.

Chapter 7: Research and Evaluation

November 23, 2009

In public relations, you cannot get accomplish anything without doing your homework. In order to know how to reach your public, you must do the research. More than that, however, you have to do your research well. While evaluation is technically the fourth step in the public relations process, it really ought to be implemented throughout the process. As the beginning our book suggested, public relations is not so much of a step-by-step process as it is a fluid every-step-affecting-each-step-all-the-time kind of process. Therefore, as you conduct your research, you ought to be evaluating all work every step of the way. The two primary questions one ought to ask are “What do I want to know?” and “How will I gather that information?”

There are several types of research that can help you find the answers to the latter question: client research, which focuses on the individual client; stakeholder research, which focuses on identifying specific publics important to the success of the client; problem-opportunity research, which helps the organization decide whether and how to act; and evaluation research, which is procedures for determining the success of a public relations plan. You have formal research and informal research. You can use feedback research, communication audits, focus groups, or survey research. All that to say, the possibilities for research are endless. Having done your homework you now have a foundation for your public relations plan.

But enough regurgitation of the text. Let’s move on to an example of the importance of research in PR. In 2005, the Brookhaven National Laboratory, which had a national spending of $4.76 billion from 1993 to 2003, was facing a $18 million cut in the budget for their Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. I’d rather not get into all the geeky scientific stuff about the project, but basically they made an incredible discovery right at the same time as they found out that they were getting major budget cuts. They wanted to use this breakthrough as incentive for why Washington should not cut their budget, yet at the same time they did not want to it to be obvious that they were trying to sway votes. Essentially they had to use this discovery to their advantage without appearing to do so. They worked with M. Booth & Associates to come up with a plan to figure out how to accomplish their goals. Their first step in the research process was to look up the schedule for any upcoming scientific conferences. They chose one in Florida that was just 5 weeks away. In the weeks before the conference, they called major science reporters to see if they were going, but it turned out they were not. They ended up announcing it on their website on a password protected page so that only certain people could see it. They sought out certain influential people who would understand the importance of this announcement. After the April 18 announcement, everything went according to plan. The budget was not cut, and most people did not even pick up on the fact that the announcement was timed right after the cuts were announced. Several stories saw the irony of it, but they made no accusations. So M. Booth & Associates’ decision to plan and do research ended up working out very favorably for their client.

Chapter 4: Publics in PR

September 19, 2009

Chapter 4 in our textbook focuses on the publics in PR. As the book phrased it, “publics may be as impossible to count as the stars.” The authors did, however, organize the various types of publics into different categories such as traditional/nontraditional, latent/aware/active, intervening, primary/secondary, internal/external, and domestic/international publics. While all publics are important, certain publics take precedence over others. For example, your primary publics’ opinions are always your priority over those of your secondary publics’. The book also discusses the research process called coorientation. To me, coorientation seems to be a very wise strategy to take. It eliminates reliance on assumptions and encourages companies to step out and actually find out what their publics are thinking rather than just guessing and running with it.

One of the traditional publics that the text talks about is employees. As I was reading that particular section, it made me think about a company I have read about that takes the employees first approach to the way they run their business.  Southwest Airlines has always made their employees their priority. Herb Kelleher, the CEO from the company’s founding until his retirement in 2001, said once, “Customers are not always right, and I think that is one of the biggest betrayals of your people you can possibly commit. The customer is frequently wrong. We don’t carry those sorts of customers. We write them and say, ‘Fly somebody else. Don’t abuse our people.'” While I’m sure Southwest Airlines public relations practitioner had to do a little bit of work to ensure that no customers were offended by this statement, one can see the difference that Kelleher’s attitude towards his employees made. By putting them first, he gained their loyalty. Southwest Airlines has been rated one of the top ten places to work, and it’s said that it is easier to get accepted into Harvard than it is to get a job there. And the customers are happy as well because the employees are happier and provide excellent service. So I think this is a prime example of the importance of maintaining a good relationship with your primary publics.