Public relations is defined by the textbook as “ the function that provides communications to foster goodwill between a firm and its constituent groups.” PR can be used for a number of reasons:
- Promote goodwill: spread the word about efforts being made by the company
- Promote a product of service: create awareness of a new offering
- Preparing internal communications: disseminate information about possible moves being made by the company or to combat other rumors
- Counteract negative publicity: damage control events that reflect poorly on a firm
- Lobbying: communicate with the government to influence legislation
- Counseling: give management insight into how to handle public issues that may arise
Often times, PR stunts are done to counteract negative publicity. This could be from a catastrophic event, such as BP’s oil spill in 2010, to Amy’s Baking Company just this past month. Another example would be a press conference for a professional sports player to counteract accusations, such as Kobe Bryant having to respond to rape accusations in 2003. This reactive publicity is the most well known because these are the situations that get most talked about. The less publicized PR attempts are the proactive ones. These happen before anything happens to influence consumers to believe a brand or company is on the leading edge. An example of this Coca Cola’s campaign to save the polar bears by having polar bear themed cans and commercials. Coke wants to make the world a better place and they let you know it with prominent displays on their products. Below is an example of one of the ways Coke got the word out, with a plush bear in a bottle.
But is any PR good PR? This is an ad age old question. On one hand, negative PR can reflect very poorly on a company and sales can decline afterwards. On the other hand, it gets consumers talking about one’s company. Let’s look at Lebron James’s “Decision.” James held a 75 minute press conference on ESPN in which advertisement spaces were sold and proceeds were donated to the Boys and Girls Club; over $2 million was raised. How can such a heartfelt attempt turn so sour? James’s decision to join other superstars to “chase championships” and leave his hometown behind made many people despise him. However, looking at his choice, it was a clearly reasonable choice that he should not be judged for because it is his decision ultimately. In the end, James was able to raise millions of dollars for a charitable cause and ever since, ESPN and other sports outlets have not been able to not go more than a few days without mentioning his decision to go to South Beach. The value brought to the Miami Heat and Lebron James from this whole ordeal, whether viewed positively or negatively, is still value added on. A link to a video of “The Decision” is posted below.
Ultimately, any PR is good PR. Getting consumers to talk about a company’s brand is getting it in their heads, which can lead to sales. When a company like Nike or Apple has faced bad press regarding unfair labor practices in China, sales did not decrease. The companies made pledges to make changes, but ultimately has anything changed? Who knows. However, it got people talking about these companies and at the same time, helped push for positive change.