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PR Behaving Badly: Three Companies That Could Do Better

August 21st, 2004

Some companies want PR. Some “do” PR because they think (right or wrong) that they have to. Still other companies need it. Unfortunately, some of the neediest firms either don’t know of their need or don’t realize that their current PR program is a little stagnant.

Here are three specific examples. Please don’t take them as an indictment of the hard-working corporate PR folks at these companies; no marketing program is perfect, and these are examples of ones that could be better.

McDonald’s is the good corporate citizen. Really—don’t laugh. Unfortunately, many consumers and members of the media don’t know this. McDonald’s issues a lot of news releases and has a great media information Web site, but it’s rare that a journalist takes the time to understand their corporate social responsibility initiatives—of which there are many—and create compelling stories around them. Most releases are republished verbatim, and quotes from company executives seem to show up when something bad happens.

McDonald’s issued their new Corporate Social Responsibility report a few weeks ago. The report is full of potential local, regional, and national story angles that would go a long way in building consumer loyalty. Not to mention helping journalists understand what they’re doing, and why and how it impacts communities around the country.

Remember the Star Tac? Pagers that displayed a call back number? These items were cutting edge—boy weren’t they!—and came quite publicly from Motorola. Motorola was the company when it came to genesis of wireless communication.

Unfortunately, Motorola seems to have turned away from strong PR programs in favor of wacky advertising campaigns that promote the brand. I can’t remember the last time I read about the latest Motorola phone (I’m smack-dab in the middle of their target market)—but I can tell you about every feature of almost all Nokia models!

It’s time for Motorola to stop all this MOTO talk and re-claim its rightful place in the hearts, minds, and hands of us all! And yes, PR is the most effective—the only—way they are going to succeed in this mission. On-message media coverage, innovative media events, compelling and perfectly-trained spokespeople…bring them on!

Your grandma uses Avon products, right? Avon isn’t nearly as glamorous as the counters at Macy’s? Well, let me tell you (as someone who is not your Grandma): Avon has a broad range of quality products, from classics to new additions, and shopping at home with a real, live person is both luxurious and convenient. Oh, and there are large swaths of the country and gigantic demographics who have neither the time nor the inclination nor the budget to purchase beauty products at Macy’s.

So why, if they have great products and a fantastic network of more than 600,000 “Avon Ladies” nationwide, does Avon have such a dowdy image? Lack of good PR, of course! I found one great story about Avon—it began:

Avon beauty products were once lodged in the popular conscious as being sold by an army of doddering septuagenarians who interrupted your supper as they peddled their wares door to door.

Now it’s the preserve of savvy and career-minded men and women.

Ding dong.

Unfortunately this story didn’t run in Marie Claire or Seventeen or on the Associated Press wire. It was in the Journal Inquirer of Manchester, CT (circulation 44,877).

Avon’s financial news gets covered, of course, as does their bad news (such as the “X-rated images put Avon man in jail” story from the Indianapolis Star), but there is a distinct lack of strong, on-message features about the vast range of products that make Avon great.

So what’s the take away? Developing compelling story angles and working with target media to generate on-message coverage that drives business objectives is not easy. It takes more than rote tactics. It takes passion and creativity—and commitment on the part of the company in question. It takes the company being willing to take the time to understand what about their current PR program is working—and what is not.

The good news for companies with solid tales to tell: help is out there.

You could give us a call anytime.

Erin Mitchell—who is a devout user of Skin So Soft—is group director at RLM and is happy to talk with you even if you don’t work for McDonald’s, Motorola, or Avon.