Gary Frisch, public relations professional and founder of Swordfish Communications, explains how a well-timed initiative to give back can yield results with little or no investment. Follow Gary on Twitter: @gfrisch
“Leave it to a public relations agency to make a good PR move.”
That’s what NBC10, the Philadelphia NBC affiliate, wrote in covering some news I recently put out for my agency. I offered free PR services to any retailer selling an absurd handgun-shaped iPhone case, contingent on them halting sales of the product. The story was picked up by a handful of media outlets.
Last year, I wrote here about the power of “newsjacking” and this is a good example of it. Newsjacking, as a reminder, is speedily jumping on something the media is already talking about to get attention for your client or organization. Often it’s tongue-in-cheek, and pop-culture related. In this case, the news release and social media posts went out the afternoon that this product went ballistic, online and off, after a New Jersey prosecutor strongly urged the public to avoid it.
But this case illustrates another technique I like to use, and which PR professionals might like to keep in their hip pockets: call it The Power of the Offer. Ideally, it goes hand-in-hand with newsjacking, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. A form of corporate social responsibility, it invariably offers much upside, with little downside in the way of investment.
Here’s an example. In 2014, Fox29 in Philadelphia reported on a hearing-impaired boy who set up a lemonade stand so his family could buy him hearing aids. Representing a hearing aid franchise at the time, I tweeted to the reporter that my client wanted to donate a pair of aids. Cash donations flowed in as a result of the initial publicity, and the station ran an updated story including my client’s good gesture. In the end, because the boy had some underlying ear issues that couldn’t be resolved simply by a new pair of aids, the parents opted to pursue a course of treatment they’d begun with a local children’s hospital, so never took us up on the offer. Nonetheless, for what would have been an investment of about $750, my client appeared to be a concerned corporate citizen.
Or consider the case of Coatings for Industry (CFI), a client that makes decorative, non-slip and anti-graffiti coatings for commercial floors and other surfaces. After Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc up and down the Mid-Atlantic, CFI wanted to donate coatings for rebuilding efforts, particularly for flooded institutions like museums, libraries, town halls, or even boardwalks (the damaged New York Aquarium, pictured above, was one such facility). We issued a press release and offered the coatings through social media, and my company reached out directly to hard-hit municipalities. Maybe because they were overwhelmed at the time, or besieged with similar offers, we never got so much as a return call, let alone a request for product. That fact itself became fodder for a second press release, which was picked up by several coatings industry media.
Again, good intentions resulted in good press, despite no actual investment.
Sometimes, the offer might be more complex, and require greater commitment and hence, more thought. In 2010, a dementia-afflicted woman was found wandering the streets of Philadelphia with no identification and no obvious hints as to the whereabouts of family. The local media widely reported it, in the hope someone would come forward to claim her. I told my client, a small health and rehabilitation chain with a dementia unit, I had a “wild” idea. Why not publicly offer to take her in and care for her until a relative could be found? I thought it would make a good second-day story, and the additional publicity would hasten her identification.
Sadly, the managing director rejected the idea, citing the extreme cost of providing indefinite care for the woman. I even began questioning the wisdom of suggesting it. Two days later, a relative recognized the woman from news reports, and brought her home. I felt vindicated; had my client jumped on this, it would have received widespread press and the patient would have barely been settled in by the time she was claimed. There were no guarantees, of course, but I suspected that would be the case.
I’m not saying you should jump on opportunities and wring your hands hoping no one bites. At all times, these initiatives should spring from your heart or social consciousness; any resulting publicity should be considered a pleasant result, not the primary goal. And you need to always be prepared to back up your promise with action. In other words, don’t bite off more than you can chew. But more often than not, due to human nature, inertia or corporate ennui, offers like these are met with crickets.
The gun-grip phone case has no useful purpose. It will likely get someone killed, most likely by police. I do hope Swordfish has the opportunity to help retailers save face and generate good press by doing the right thing and pulling it from their shelves. So far, a few weeks after my offer made the news, exactly zero have contacted me.
This article originally appeared in the Bulldog Reporter Daily ‘Dog blog.
Gary Frisch is founder and president of Swordfish Communications, a full-service public relations agency in Laurel Springs, N.J. Visit Swordfish online at www.swordfishcomm.com.