Posts Tagged ‘PR tactic’

Don’t “Censor” Your Call to Action

September 7th, 2010

In the wake of Craigslist “censoring” its adult services section, commentators and the media continue to read the tea leaves rather aggressively, trying to divine what exactly are the site’s motives.

The move can be viewed as an absolute PR calculation.  Of course, when there’s subtext, it’s worthwhile to analyze what that is.  In this case, Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster has posted several entries on the official site blog that make the company come across as rather angry.  On the blog, Buckmaster takes shots at CNN, competitor adult personals sites, eBay (which owns part of Craigslist, oddly enough), human rights advocates, and various state attorneys general, amongst others.

CNN in particular gets quite a bit of heat, given its recent ambush interview of the site’s founder, Craig Newmark.  Of course, as a network that once paused for breaking news to report the incredibly pressing story “horse stuck in mud” and other hard-hitting content, Newmark shouldn’t lose too much sleep over CNN’s antics.

Still, tirades rarely go over well as a PR strategy, as the objective observer often assumes that passion, not reason, guides the aggrieved party’s messaging.  The same perspective certainly applies to Craigslist.  Even though countless advocates and communications experts agree that the site certainly has 1st Amendment protections for its content and a DMCA shield, simply applying the “censor” sticker without a call for action is, at best, a curious PR tactic.

If Craigslist simply wanted people to talk about the issue, then fine, mission accomplished.  But, if the site wants to mobilize the masses who peruse its 50 million new monthly ads and call out perceived hypocrites in the law enforcement and advocacy communities, it needs a more focused PR strategy with carefully articulated points (not random blog posts) and demands consistent with its goals of freedom and transparency in communication.

We’ve seen the launch point, now let’s see the follow through…

Brand Sleight of Hand, Brought to You by Toyota

August 26th, 2010

Another day, another Toyota recall.  In theory, any other brand that might have shouldered the weight of so much negative press would have collapsed.

When your brand faces a torrent of constant criticism like Toyota, the go-to PR tactic is to respond with positive messaging, namely in the form of ads – that’s the platform that gives you supreme control over the message and narrative.

But please – when considering such an approach, you must avoid over-the-top, absurd spin.

You may have seen Toyota’s recent commercials about how they’re spending $1 million an hour on improving their fleet’s safety.  As the New York Times points out, that adds up to nearly $9 billion a year.

Now that seems like quite a bit of loose change to spend exclusively on safety improvements, but as the Times explains, the devil’s in the video details.  The actual script of the ad says that “at Toyota, we care about your safety. That’s why we’re investing one million dollars every hour to improve our technology and your safety.”

That last sentence, if diced carefully, says that the money is being spent on technology improvement alone.  Yet during that specific narration, the words “INVESTING IN YOUR SAFETY” float on the screen (yes, the words are in all-caps in the commercial).

Nice subliminal trick Toyota, but when mainstream outlets devote their time to parsing the meaning behind your ads – and potential duplicity – all your company does is fuel the lingering mistrust on your brand’s safety record.  Not the wisest PR tactic we’ve seen.

The Tea Party’s Fatal PR Blow?

May 5th, 2010

The Washington Post has a lead article today on the nascent Tea Party’s struggle with its “racist” image.  As the saying goes, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your facts – and for the Tea Party, the fact is that its political boundaries unfortunately are blurred with extremely racist and offensive elements.  Given that the wider PR narrative of Tea Party political and militant extremism is all but written in stone, separating bigotry from the movement’s desired image of fiscal discipline and individual/sovereign independence is a tall order.  As the Post article succinctly states, the loosely defined elements of the Tea Party have “no national communications strategy.”

In more practical terms, the movement has yet to score a major political victory.  Whether it’s railing against government bailouts, to standing against healthcare legislation, to alienating political candidates it once supported, the Tea Party still seeks that elusive big “win” to generate strong momentum on the political stage.

These setbacks haven’t stopped its members from identifying future opportunities to sway political and policy debates, but here’s the problem – the past political fights have essentially centered on financial reform and entitlements.  The legislation or laws in question were more focused on money than social issues – i.e., “we can’t afford bailouts… we can’t afford healthcare…” and so forth.

But the next big policy fights are ones rife with race and ethnicity.  Immigration reform is so racially charged that the state of Arizona has become a lightning rod of criticism and boycotts because of its perceived heavy-handed and racist laws.  Terrorism and racial-profiling are thrust back into the spotlight thanks to the failed Times Square bomb plot and no-fly list breakdown on Emirates Airlines.

If it can’t scrub its racist image, how can the Tea Party expect to be taken seriously if it attempts to join the debate on these two high-profile issues?  And if its members do talk, what risk does the movement run if the bigots within are the ones whose voices speak loudest?

In politics, shedding racist baggage is next to impossible.  Indeed, many states in the American south still continue to deal with the ugly and terrifying images of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation.  Unless the Tea Party leaders conduct a transparent, thoughtful, sincere soul-searching process that insists on zero tolerance of racist elements, the movement is doomed to novelty status.  Purge now, or forever hold your peace.

P.S. One PR tactic that guarantees failure for the Tea Party is claiming that so-called “plants” (i.e., opposition operatives) purposely show up and exhibit cartoonish racist behavior to make Tea Partiers look bad.  Appealing to conspiracy theories is a terrible PR strategy and only helps to cement the lunatic, reactionary image of the movement.