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Free PR lessons abound if you’re paying attention to the news in 2023

by | Jul 10, 2023 | Public Relations

This is Part 1; Part 2 to come at year’s end

The first half of 2023 has just concluded, and already a long-time belief of mine—which I have written about and told many times to people who reported to me—has once again been proven true: that a tuition-free Master Class in Advanced Public Relations is available every day by paying attention to daily news events.

Below are several happenings from print and TV headlines from during the first half of the year that provided the important PR lessons:

From the political scene

The two most important news stories of the year (thus far) are the indictments of former President Donald Trump and the revelations that Fox News hosts and management didn’t believe what they were broadcasting. What Fox broadcasters believed about the former president and what they thought about his supporters’ claims became public when supposedly “in house only” texts and emails became public as part of a defamation lawsuit by Dominion Voting System against Fox News.

PR lesson to remember: Never email or text anything that you don’t want to become public. Confidential information should be discussed on a person-to-person basis in a secure area.

From the sports arena

Thus far there have been three important PR lessons—one from the Super Bowl, another about the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, and the third regarding the merger between the PGA and the Saudi financed golf association. 

Coverage of client’s Super Bowl sports marketing campaigns in consumer publications has been almost nil for years (it’s mostly relegated to ad trade books). But it was especially evident in the lead-up to this year’s game, which saw news stories about gambling from home dominate coverage until shortly before and after the game itself. 

News about the Olympics was not a surprise to the savvy sports marketing PR pro. It’s always negative until the actual athletic events begin, and even then negative articles are not unusual. This year, so far, the threats of boycotts by countries opposing the International Olympic Committee’s position allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete at Paris has been the big Olympic news. 

The golf merger has received major negative coverage and is also being investigated by the Justice Department for possible antitrust violations. 

PR lesson to remember: The closer you get to a mega sporting event, history shows, the more likely the negative media coverage will be as journalists look for cutting-edge stories. 

Ongoing examples: Paris Olympic stories about possible boycotts and corruption and concussion articles will escalate as the events get closer (although concussions stories are now published throughout the year by some publications). PR staffers on sports-related accounts must always be prepared as if they were handling a client in crisis.

From the world of science

More than several months had passed since Covid-19 received major news coverage. Then in March, Covid again made headlines when news stories were revived that the deadly virus might have come from a laboratory in China. That theory has split the scientific community.

PR lesson to remember: Prior to releasing any information to the media, news releases about new medical advances should always contain the contact information of medical researchers who participated in the research but who are not quoted in the release. If the news release is about the results obtained from new research, including the name of entities that financed the research might alleviate reporters’ concerns about the thoroughness of the release. Reporters from major news outlets always include in their articles the names of entities that financed new medical developments and also include opinions of experts not involved with the research, which means that differing opinions about the news release’s claims might be published. Thus, PR people on medical-related accounts should always have a back-up plan on how to respond to any negative stories that might appear.

From the business world

Even though their crises were first revealed several years ago, Boeing and Wells Fargo are still receiving negative coverage. I rank this above the failures of Silicon Valley Bank, the New York-based Signature Bank and San Francisco’s First Republic Bank because Boeing and Wells Fargo have been receiving negative coverage for years. 

PR lesson to remember: Account executives working with a client that has had a PR crisis should be aware that the crisis is in the client’s DNA and can resurface any time. Having several different client-approved statements that can quickly be massaged and disseminated at a moment’s notice should be part of any program crafted for a client with a past PR crisis.

From the advertising and marketing world

Almost 700 marketing companies were put on notice by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), on April 13, that “they could face civil penalties if they can’t back up their product claims …” The notice was sent to companies “involved in the marketing of OTC drugs, homeopathic products, dietary supplements, or functional food” and the agency said “they could incur significant civil penalties if they fail to adequately substantiate their product claims in ways that run counter to the litigated decisions of prior FTC administrative cases.”

Also, on June 26, The New York Times and others reported that Publishers Clearing House, the direct marketing company that uses sweepstakes to sell magazine subscriptions, agreed to pay $18.5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the FTC, which accused the company of using what’s known as “dark patterns to trick customers into paying for products or giving up their data.” 

PR lesson to remember: PR people are not completely exempt from being sued if they represent a product that makes false claims and they promote the product by purposely including false information in news releases. Sellers are responsible for claims they make about their products and services. Third parties—such as advertising agencies, website designers and catalog marketers—also may be liable for making or disseminating deceptive representations if they participate in the preparation or distribution of the advertising, or know about the deceptive claims, according to the FTC.

From the show biz stage

The royals provided the best entertainment in the first half of 2023. It deserves mentioning in the show biz category because it also provided the best original television programming. King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla were the leading actors in the spectacle when they were crowned on May 6. The coverage deserves an award for being the best off-Broadway show produced in many years. 

In addition, Prince Harry’s ongoing public feud with his family should qualify as an Oscar or Tony contender as the best revival of a drama. Though his dispute with his relatives is old hat, whenever he speaks it produces a new rewrite of the script. The English royal family has no political power. In effect, they are actors in a play with roles that are written for them. They deserve to be the top story in this category. The crowning of the new king reminds me of the old movie spectacles directed by Cecil DeMille. The Prince Harry saga could have been directed by Woody Allen or Charlie Chaplin, both of whom made memorable comic dramas.

PR lesson to remember: Don’t automatically follow the PR tenets that date back to the Archean Eon era, the geological stage of our planet that dates back even before some of you were born—about four billion years ago, give or take a million or two. Try to think out of the box if you can. That’s the fastest way to separate yourself from your do-it-by-the-book colleagues.

Honorable mentions

There are three occurrences that I feel deserve honorable mentions: 

  • Some people might think that the tragedy of the deep-sea submersible Titan, in which five people died while trying to view the wreck of the Titanic, deserves to be included as the top story in the science category. I don’t for two reasons: While I agree that it is a very newsworthy story, unlike the examples I cited in the individual categories, the tragedy only affected a relatively few people, the families of multi-millionaires who could afford to undergo such an adventure. And besides, there are no specific PR lessons to be learned from the disaster that apply to our business.
  • Another happening that deserves mentioning is the introduction of ChatGPT. While it’s indeed an important scientific development, I decided that controversy regarding how Covid-19 began to be the top science development because the disease has affected all aspects of societies around the world since 2019. ChatGPT has not yet done that. Also there is no specific PR lesson that has yet to emanate from the discovery that relates to the PR practitioner.
  • ESPN’s firing of long time employees including Suzy Kolber, who had been one of the original anchors of ESPN2 when it launched in 1993, and had been at the network for 30 years, along with others who have been fixtures there since the early 2000s, does provide PR lessons that are relevant to our business, which is known for its frequent firing of high-salary employees and replacing them with less experienced and less expensive ones. 

The lessons: Employees should always do what’s best for themselves. Because in the final analysis, you’re nothing but an employee number and your employer will always do what’s best for the agency—when agency execs make promises to employees, they should remember what Niccolò Machiavelli, the Italian diplomat, author, philosopher and historian, who lived during the Renaissance, said in his book, The Prince: “The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present.” It’s been said that the lessons in the book condone immoral means to obtain objectives and in many instances the immoral means are rampant in the daily practices of our business. 

Examples: When PR agencies attempt to put a good face on totalitarian regimes or try to defend businesses whose actions hurt the public. Or when employers lie to employees to prevent them from leaving by telling them how valuable they are to a company, but then fire them to achieve bottom-line results. The Prince condones the use of immoral means to achieve goals. So do too many PR practitioners.

Some readers might disagree with me, but that’s why people bet on different horses at race tracks.

Arthur Solomon
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. During his political agency days, he worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.

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