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Idealog—in the ideas business

How To: Get on the front page

In an age where the media loves to feast on bad news, not good news, how do you score maximum media exposure without a filthy crisis to go with it? Deborah Pead, from leading PR firm Pead PR, has pretty much seen it all.

There used to be a time when the front page was the Holy Grail for the PR practitioner. We were in awe and fear of what would appear in prime media real estate.

Hours of planning the big announcement, researching the information, carefully crafting the pitch notes, planning who to speak to and when, preparing the engaging visuals and photo opportunity and crunching infographics for news-at-a-glance is just some of the ground work that goes on.

As much work goes into a good front page PR pitch as goes into a fine bottle of wine – vinting it, not drinking it.

And then along came the digital age and the rules bent. Now all you need to do is accidentally press reply all instead of forward and before you know it ...

But the front page has always been for the taking if you are ignorant enough to be sexist (home brew, anyone?), racist, or ban breastfeeding mums from your café.

Nowadays the digitally savvy are less focused on traditional media – now that every company has the power to be its own media company, the online influentials spread news faster than a young grapevine on high-octane fertiliser.

If it’s being talked about, it will be online, it will be in the social media space, and it will travel. And if it’s juicy enough, everyone will be dining out on it.

The fad is now fact.

But nothing can ever replace the cold sweat- inducing, heart-pounding fear of making the front page for all the wrong reasons – or the flipside, the pure elation of making it for all the right ones.

I’ve seen many framed covers hanging in offices and boardrooms alongside various performance accolades and trophies.

I’ve yet to see a framed homepage, blog or tweet (with the exception of Russell Brown’s inaugural Public Address entry, which he donated for a charity fundraiser).

If you’re pitching a good news story, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the Holy Grail. In fact, you may even end up on page zero.

But introduce a good old-fashioned PR disaster into your well-laid plans and the front page is all yours.

Irrespective of the medium, a PR disaster will become the news and will travel far faster than your ability to diffuse it.

And when the heat is on, there are some you have sympathy for, while others are laced with Schadenfreude (we told them that wouldn’t work), and yet others where you wonder what were they thinking (or smoking?).

How to get on the front page (and regret it) – some local examples

The Warehouse

The Warehouse released 13,000 red helium balloons to celebrate its 25th birthday. While no harm was intended, balloons are considered a choking or digestion hazard for marine life, including turtles and birds, and the release raised the wrath of environmentalists and wildlife supporters. Red balloons were found on Great Barrier beaches for months after the event. A similar response was provoked by the promotional balloons at Round the Bays run a few years ago. Someone didn’t do their homework and ask that all-important ‘what if’ question and think through all the consequences. Oopsy.

Sound of war

Another idea not thought through was from the local New Zealand distributor of a major international gaming accessory company, which thought it would be a good idea to send a punter to Iraq to experience what real war sounded like because the brand’s headphones delivered such good sound that the two were indistinguishable.

Trademarks and the Radler racket

A right royal storm brewed when DB got all heavy-handed about its rights to use the generic term Radler as a brand name. A decision to embark on legal action when a boutique brewery called its brew ‘Radler-style’ showed a surprising lack of respect for the discerning beer drinker and made the big brewer look like a bully.

Adidas’ big year of blunders

First, dedicated followers of the brand’s gangsta chic fashion donned their riot gear – head-to-toe Adidas garb. That gangsta image with London burning in the background is probably the most memorable visual of the riots, but not the one I would want for my brand. That’s the risk you take when you dress gangsta rappers and convicted criminals. On the flip side, the Adidas sponsorship of the London Olympics will present a more positive brand alignment.

At home the global brand’s commercialisation of sport saw an embarrassing own-goal when Adidas All Black jerseys sold here for $220 but could be bought for nearly half the price online. Fans’ feelings moved from being ripped off to outrage when Adidas tried to prevent offshore purchase at a more reasonable price.

The whole disaster could have been avoided with a build-up ‘purchase with a purpose’ campaign or they could have made it go away by dropping the price.

The pink fist of doom

Is there any need to mention the pink fist and rubber abstinence rings? Who was ‘having a laff’? Fitzy might have looked like a plonker but at least he got paid.

Something fishy

It was a fate worse than bruised corporate pride when an Australian PR agency sent goldfish in the mail as a stunt to promote Adelaide. Many fish didn’t survive the trip and the decision maker responsible for mailing – and killing – more than 50 goldfish in a stunt gone wrong apologised for the incident.
A donation to the Animal Welfare League and the RSPCA followed the kerfuffle. Everything about the stunt was wrong. Not only the hopeless logistics but what about the people who don’t want to keep a live pet? Who signed off that one?

The art of good PR is having the smarts to keep your nose clean in the first place and then have a bloody good hanky ready if it all unexpectedly goes rogue.

Productivity and periods

Former Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) head Alasdair Thompson should have known better. His most awful day began with a lengthy press release justifying a stupid statement he made on air linking the wage gap to women’s “monthly sick problems”.

He then spent the day doing appalling interviews, got himself confused with a director (“cut”) and blamed everyone (including the media) for his troubles. He not only made the front page but also road- blocked all electronic broadcasts.

A day later, the disaster ended with a two- paragraph EMA release in which Thompson finally admitted fault and apologised. Had the apologetic epistle gone out 24 hours earlier, he would still have a job.

I wonder if the EMA still offers ‘media training’ as a core service for members?!

Deborah Pead is the founder and owner of PR firm Pead PR. She wasn’t really involved in a shock horror scandal, but she does look a treat on the front page.

Originally published in Idealog #38, page 42

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