It’s the 1970s, and the mid-level rock band Stillwater is poised to make its Rolling Stone magazine debut. The iconic publication sends a 15 year-old reporter to travel with the band to write an in-depth piece. Initially, the musicians consider the music critic “the enemy” and refer to him by exactly those words. Both the inexperienced reporter and the naïve band members make the media relations mistake of getting too close to be objective. Of course, the band wants the article to portray them as musical geniuses – great PR! Instead, the journalist writes a warts-and-all article about the band – which the lead singer promptly disputes, making the reporter look bad. Eventually, the lead singer redeems himself and confirms the story — and Stillwater ends up on the cover of Rolling Stone. It’s good to have connections to the press — just don’t go on tour with them.
At the confluence of advertising, marketing, and public relations was the genius stunt by the fictional Wonka Corporation to release golden tickets hidden inside their popular candy bars throughout England. The winners were granted a tour of the highly secretive chocolate factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate bars. Of course, sales skyrocketed and kids jammed candy stores clamoring for Wonka bars. Brilliant! It became a much talked about event; it was fun; and fit right in with the ethos of the Wonka brand. Media coverage of the golden ticket winners’ arrival at the factory gate was stellar. It’s a classic “chained product” stunt like the famous P&G anniversary promotion that put 2 million cubic zirconias – and 500 real diamonds – in packages of Spic and Span detergent. When a product promotion leads with a great idea, it tends to generate enough news coverage to sell the campaign.
NFL player Rod Tidwell, played by Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr., was known as an underachieving receiver with a big ego and mouth to match. His bad reputation prevented him from getting paid well and being able to support his family. Agent Jerry McGuire (Tom Cruise) accompanies Tidwell to the NFL draft despite the fact that Tidwell, as a league member, doesn’t need to be there. McGuire recognizes the draft as public event offering plenty of PR opportunity – including a chance for Tidwell to massage his poor image with a “walk-through” – an apology tour of light TV interviews. In the end, Tidwell’s best reputation move turns out to be on the playing field, where he works harder, plays better, and talks less –all with the cameras rolling. Sometimes a brand’s best PR move is to back up its claims with actions.
How is a submarine thriller a study in PR? When it’s a crisis communications nightmare about the highest of high-stakes events: a nuclear attack. Plus, communications technology plays a crucial role in the plot.
A submarine captain played by Gene Hackman receives two messages – the first (EAM) “emergency action message” says to get ready to launch; the second says to launch missiles on Russia. However, the communications system is damaged, leaving the message fragmented: “subject: nuclear missile laun…” Regulations state that both the commander and the XO (Denzel Washington) must concur on the order to launch their nukes — a critical aspect of the plan. But Denzel’s XO refuses to launch until they see the full message. Hackman’s character, fearful of leaving the U.S. defenseless, orders the missiles launched. It turns out that the second message was a ceasefire order. What follows is a leadership struggle as Denzel’s character tries to have the order retracted.
The Crimson Tide takes us through all Norman R. Augustine’s six stages of crisis. The Navy had taken steps to foresee and manage a crisis event, starting with a full audit of the possibilities, and it has clear chain-of-command and concurrence policies, as seen in a crisis drill. Yet despite the procedures, preparation drills, and continual updates to internal stakeholders (the crew), the plan proves inadequate because it hinges on a compromise between two officers who cannot agree. In most time-urgent crisis situations, a clear chain of command works better than consensus.
Michael Corleone moves his family to Nevada as part of a larger reputation management initiative to establish the enterprise as a legitimate business. In the sprawling opening scene, the Senator from Nevada accepts a large cash donation to a public university from Corleone at his son’s confirmation party. This solid public affairs maneuver would position the family as philanthropists and a socially responsible business. It would also curry favor with the government, easing approval of its gaming license. Of course, things don’t go as planned, since the Senator intends to “squeeze” the Corleones for more money. Soon afterward he is caught with a dead prostitute. It’s clear that public officials can be as corrupt as crime families, so one should be careful with whom you engage in government relations. Lesson learned!