April 27, 2011

PR 101: “Spin” is free…6,000 red capes are not.

And did we mention the graphic design fees?

I would love to have been in the room (with a gong) when Workforce Central Florida decided that creating the cartoon character “Dr. Evil Unemployment” — and spending $14,000 on red satin superhero capes to hand out to the unemployed — was a fabulous idea.  True, hindsight is always 20/20, but how on earth could they have not forseen the misery this PR stunt was going to unleash upon them?

Unemployment is a serious issue that does not lend itself well to frivolity.   Sure, some people who collect unemployment are just lazy slackers abusing the system.  But for those people truly desperate to get a job…you’re looking at folks who are stressed out, struggling to feed their families, plagued by feeling unworthy, and seeking avenues to earn back their self respect.  Are these people likely to don a red cape in the hopes of “vanquishing” Dr. Evil Unemployment and take a picture thusly attired for the website photo gallery?  I think not.

Other elements of this $75,000 program include a Facebook contest and quiz (no joke:  “What Superhero Are You?”), photo opps for the unemployed with life size foam cutouts of Dr. Evil himself, billboards, and more.  Is it any wonder the campaign faced such criticism that they had to cancel it after the first week?  (For more details, here’s the original Orlando Sentinel story from April 15, and the Orlando Sentinel blog post from April 20th announcing the cancellation.)

The PR lesson to be learned here?  Do not use goofy, comical PR stunts to draw attention to grave issues…even when you’re the good guy who’s trying to solve them.  Now…if you’re a hotel company trying to showcase your fun side, and want to offer programs like, say…dogs cutting a record at a famous music studio in Nashville or learning to surf in San Diego…well, THAT’S ok.  Even the Today Show would approve of that (click here to see the clip…and yes, Redpoint masterminded this crazy – but successful – program).

But this doesn’t mean that serious issues like unemployment are off limits to PR people.   They just need to be treated with respect.  Take McDonald’s, for instance.  They made headlines in early April by announcing their intention to hire 50,000 people in the U.S. on April 19th.  Sounds amazing right?  Well, guess what?  They hire that many people every April anyway.  But some enterprising PR person in the McD’s food chain looked at that statistic and said, “Hey!  If we link this annual hiring spree to a specific day in April, we could probably get some positive press out of doing our part to reduce the unemployment rate!”  And voila:  they did.

Brilliant.  No cost, confessing to a little spin in their campaign (preventing the media from “exposing” it), and repackaging something they’re already doing to make it sound fresh and unique.  I love it.  Way to go, Mickey D’s.  You’ve done my profession proud.

Want a laugh?  Check out more examples of crazy but successful PR campaigns – including the Instant Gourmet Kitchen, the launch of the Department of Romance, and Playing Dirty During Mud Season – at redpointspeaks.com/results/case-studies/.

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