Dad’s Wisdom Makes Great PR Advice

For Mother’s Day 2018, we reported how mom’s wisdom makes great PR advice. Dads clamored for their say. Most of our fathers’ advice probably went in one ear and out the other — as a dad would say. As we approach Father’s Day, let’s stop and recognize how a dad’s sometimes patronizing, always wry nuggets of wisdom can be applied to the practice of public relations.

7 Dadisms that make great PR advice

“You’re not going out dressed like that.”

Dad was trying to say that you don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention, and the same goes for brands. Even if the executive spokesperson — usually the CEO — is naturally charismatic and confident facing the media, she should never venture into the public eye without media prep. Only counsel, simulations, and practice can prepare an inexperienced spokesperson for possible adversarial, ignorant, or inexperienced reporters. For PR tips on successful media training, see our earlier post.

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about”

It’s not ER, it’s PR. If a prominent tech reporter paints your company in an unflattering light, sometimes there’s nothing the PR team can do to prevent the fire. While we all sweat it while it’s happening, there’s no crying in PR. Time moves fast, and a good PR agency will advise action in proper proportion to the damage, always with an eye on the long term image of the brand. For a deeper dive on dealing with a negative PR situation, see our earlier post.

“I’m not sleeping; I’m resting my eyes”

While dad was surely sleeping at your piano recital, the news never does. Brands cannot afford to ever be napping, especially when mentioned in a negative light – or in a full blown PR crisis. Much of the time, a company spokesperson needs to address a crisis, especially if at fault. But there are also times when it’s the best tactical move to reserve comment. See this earlier post for a PR guide to strategic silence.

“My house; my rules

One of the all-time dadisms isn’t so cut and dried when it comes to the PR agency-client relationships. It serves no one if the PR agency are “yes men,” bowing easily to a client’s ill-conceived idea. Being honest with a client in a difficult situation is not only mandatory, but the key to a trusting, transparent relationship. To learn how to tell a client they are wrong, see our earlier post.

“Don’t spend it all in one place”

Certainly, money was a touchy subject with dad; but imagine how charged the subject can be with clients and agencies. Companies naturally want to maximize PR activities for the budget, but sometimes the wish list will exceed their resources. In the agency-client world, PR pros sometimes have to remain steadfast about sticking to budget limitations, and will need to advise the client what tactics are expendable: which award entry to omit, what research survey can wait, or which release to not put out on the wire.  

“Nobody said life would be fair”

PR people cannot control the media. Sometimes, a journalist may write a story that contains minor inaccuracies (which are not necessarily the reporter’s fault) or misrepresentations — or inexplicably jump an embargo. Stuck in the middle of an unfair situation, the PR team must sometimes absorb the criticism for such issues while simultaneously struggling to correct errors. Either way, PR pros tend to develop a thick skin while enduring the ups and downs of the media relations game. Dad would say it’s “character building.” For tips on maintaining media relationships under pressure, see our earlier post.

“A little hard work never hurt anybody”

Wise words from the man of the house. If you’re considering a career in public relations, be prepared to juggle and hustle, and don’t expect a 9-to-5 existence. There is no unplugging or auto-pilot in PR; one must constantly work to perform for clients and build long-term, fruitful relationships with media. The news has never moved faster — nor has been more competitive than it is today. PR is hard work, but winning results can feel amazing.
Little did we know, father was a sound PR practitioner. We at Crenshaw wish all the dads out there a happy Father’s Day!  

5 "Founding Fathers" Of PR

As Father’s Day approaches, it’s a good time to remember the legendary figures who shaped modern public relations. As those of us who work in PR practice the science (and art) of the profession, we rarely think about how it evolved. It’s fascinating to chart the growth of public relations over the last century by looking at those who had the vision to create the industry.

5 who shaped today’s PR business

Bernays gets top billing as PR’s “father”

A nephew of Freud, Edward Bernays (1891-1995) “invented” modern PR and coined the term “public relations.” He used a blend of psychology and media savvy to influence public opinion. Like other PR men who would follow, he started by doing propaganda work for the U.S. government, but Bernays’ era was World War I. In addition to the brilliant but now-dubious “torches of freedom” campaign that advanced social acceptance of women smoking in public, his work convinced Americans to eat bacon for breakfast. Bernays surveyed thousands of doctors (the original third-party influencers), and most said that a large breakfast was conducive to good health. The published results trumpeted bacon and eggs as the “All-American breakfast” and bacon sales soared. Today, statistically valid surveys like his are still used to create news and build credibility.

Lee was a leader in media relations

Ivy Ledbetter Lee (1877-1934) is credited with refining the art of media relations, but his most celebrated engagement was a train wreck – literally. He helped Pennsylvania Railroad Company manage the press’s coverage of a fatal 1906 railway accident by using a document called a press release. He invited reporters to the site of the accident rather than trying to cover it up, embracing what was then a very unusual practice of transparency. Lee also proposed to John D. Rockefeller Jr. the concept of two-way internal communications to improve the company’s image after a mine strike massacre. Lee urged Rockefeller to visit aggrieved coal miners and make a public event out of the outreach. In his 1906 manifesto, “Declaration of Principles,” he articulated his recommendation for honest, open, and accurate communications between companies and the public. But his reputation was mixed; despite his introduction of transparency into the practice of PR, Lee, like Herb Schmertz 60 years later, was hailed as an innovator but also criticized for working with the “robber barons” of the time. Some things never change.

Edelman elevates marketing PR

Dan Edelman (1920-2013) brought products to the public’s attention in a way that was new at the time – by getting their stories in newspapers and on television. He started the PR agency that still bears his name in 1952. Like his contemporary Harold Burson, Edelman got his start during World War II, where his job was to document and refute German propaganda. But Edelman really thrived later when his agency built a reputation for creating product marketing events and stunts. As some who worked at Edelman can attest, the agency used to begin every presentation with a slide of a stunt Dan dreamed up in the 1950s. As the story goes, he had haircare client Toni Co. send six sets of twins on a cross-country trip in a “perm box” trailer, inviting the public to guess which twin had the Toni home perm and which the expensive ($15!) salon job. The media tour was born, and the rest is history.

Schmertz created confrontations

Herbert Schmertz (1930-2018) introduced the idea of corporations fighting criticism and espousing principles with his creation of the “advertorial” in the 1970s. As head of corporate communications for oil behemoth Mobil, Schmertz was the most powerful man in PR at the time. But don’t imagine that he was simply a corporate shill for big oil. The enigmatic Schmertz also ran political campaigns with three Kennedys, was a mainstay of the NYC cultural scene, and worked as a labor lawyer. But as VP of public affairs, he fashioned a unique response to mounting criticism of Mobil during the energy crisis. Mobil took out full-page advocacy op-eds in the New York Times to share the company’s viewpoint on public issues like technology, mass transit, and energy independence. He also massaged Mobil’s corporate image by sponsoring PBS programming, which elevated the image of the oil giant. Most of all, Schmertz pioneered “creative confrontation” with media by corporate communicators. His hardball tactics and paid op-eds paved the way for corporate PR officers to influence policy. Today, corporations not only advocate for their own interests through proactive communications, but they’re almost expected to articulate their values by taking a stand on social issues.

Burson nurtures relationships

Living legend Harold Burson (1921-      ), co-founder of global PR juggernaut Burson-Marsteller, is perhaps our greatest PR visionary. A one-time journalist in Tennessee, Burson bore witness to history after being assigned by American Forces Network to cover and transcribe the Nuremberg Trials in 1945. He then switched to doing PR for an engineering company and eventually started an agency with his ex-employer as his first client. Burson believes that what a corporation does is more important than what is says. He sees the term “communications” as reductive, implying that the message means more than actions. He pioneered the integration of marketing and B2B PR and was a proponent of nurturing genuine relationships, both with the press and with employees. Burson was the guiding force behind Johnson & Johnson’s historic handling of the Tylenol episode, setting the bar for crisis management for decades to come. Like Ivy Lee, Burson is a man of sturdy principles, known for his conviction that the corporation should be a force for social good.

All the PR “fathers” weathered controversy in their careers, perhaps indicating how complicated and challenging the practice of public relations can be. As in real life, patriarchs are often flawed, but they make an impact. These trailblazers made powerful contributions to the evolution of a field that continues to grow in stature and influence.

5 Tips For Winning Father’s Day PR

Can Father’s Day be a viable opportunity for generating positive PR? If done well, our answer is a resounding yes!

There’s no shortage of interest in the holiday: the changing role of dads is becoming evident, and Father’s Day spending is expected to reach a record $14.3 billion in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation. Marketing and public relations professionals would be wise to take heed.

Here are some tips, garnered from past brand campaigns, for winning positive PR for dad’s big day.

Use real-life people in your campaigns. Smart media relations pros know stories are richer — and more likely to earn coverage — when they feature real people who win our hearts and minds. If you have compelling fathers to highlight as part of your brand’s Father’s Day push, make them the centerpiece of publicity efforts whenever possible. Dove’s commercial last year, which featured actual men learning they’d become dads for the first time, is a good example of using genuine moments to create a compelling brand awareness campaign.

Get emotional. Pulling at the heartstrings isn’t just a winning strategy when it comes to Mother’s Day. Emotional stories tend to be shared more frequently, especially when combined with the real-life scenarios mentioned above. We enjoyed Time magazine’s recent Father’s Day campaign, Letters From Dad, which featured written pieces from a diverse range of  famous dads, including Aaron Sorkin, Michael Bloomberg, Hank Azaria, Ethan Hawke, and Tom Brokaw.

Be clever with hashtags. Use hashtags to encourage social sharing, and make sure they reflect an equally clever idea. Last year’s hashtag, #jokesfromdad, launched by home goods retailer hhgregg, had us in stitches watching the video of children retelling irresistible “dad jokes.” Some variations on the dad joke video went viral, indicating how universal the idea was.

Don’t ignore gift guides. Ah, the gift guide — just because it’s predictable doesn’t mean it should be neglected. Expect top publications to spill some ink on recommendations for gifts ranging from trusty bedroom slippers to edgy new technology, like the virtual reality headset featured in this Father’s Day gift guide. If your company produces a product for mass — and male — consumption, it’s worth pitching the right targets. It could be as simple as cleverly packaging your gift idea, and timing it well.

And one caveat: avoid assumptions. Never assume everyone has a dad, present or not, or has fond thoughts about him. Take a lesson from eBay, which earned publicity for its Father’s Day email marketing campaign for all the wrong reasons. The online selling giant sent emails with the subject line, “Your father called,” irking many for its lack of sensitivity (imagine receiving that note while grieving the loss of a father). One can’t predict every scenario that might hit the wrong way, but in today’s age of Twitter lambasting, it pays to vet every idea carefully. Try testing the concept with a diverse enough crowd to see how it lands.