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PR Lessons From Space
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My current comments about this article:

Two PR Lessons From Space:  Balance & Taste

 

"Out, damn spot, out" anquished Lady Macbeth attempting to

erase the vision of bloodied hands. And by 12:00 high on

Tuesday, January 26th, every New Englander shared those same

feelings. The previous 40 hours had dealt us losses of

record-breaking magnitudes.

The New England Patriots were decimated in the Super Bowl

leaving the faithful with that same sickening feeling of

Hemingway's Old Man upon the butchery of the beautiful fish.

How could we "bear" more?... at least so we thought. Then

came Monday and the desecration of our demolished heros...

some were junkies. Finally by Tuesday, when repression's

scar tissue began to mend our weeping wounds, the space

shuttle Challenger exploded in real time, in inner space and

within sight. To a person, those phantom "spots" that

haunted Lady Macbeth, became a reality.

REALITY

Y

It couldn't get worse, I thought. But again I was wrong. I

forgot about the media. It, too, is a part of reality.

Within minutes, radio, TV and the presses were racing against

each other to predict the reason for the failure, or at least

to get an unique slant on the story. Additionally, special

interest groups starting shouting their slogans, such as "ban

manned space flight", and PR departments were preparing their

"In Memoriams".

Peak performance during such times of compounding tragedies

requires prior planning and practice. When it is lacking,

it's almost certain that misjudgements will be made. And so

they were in the public relation campaigns of companies

caught unprepared. The question is, "What PR lessons on

omission and commission did we learn from these tumultuous

events?"

CONTINGENCY

s Y

Certainly, on any scale of rational value, the Patriot's loss

was nothing compared to that of the Challenger crew. However,

based on the lines of pre-game print and the broadcast

coverage, the Patriot's Bowl bid emotionally far exceeded the

hype of the Challenger flight, which ironically was designed

to be a public relations centerpiece. Shuttles launch and

land, monthly, but who knew when the Patriots would ever see

another Bowl bid... so the wisdom had it. The Patriots hype

was on.

A part of that hype was the Boston Globe which ran its own

ads for SUPER BOWL SPECIALS -- the "

ǁ" There was the Pre-Game special on Friday,

January 24th. The Super Sunday Sports Pages on January 26th.

And the The Super Bowl Souvenir Edition on Tuesday, January

28th. It was sharp marketing for the financing of the

additional pages of extended sports coverage. Any company

that purchased space needn't have its advertising head

examined, either. There was readership. The ads that ran on

those dates ranged from the direct marketing of souvenirs to

expressions of gratitude for a winning season.

Oddly, it's these latter "thank yous" that create a delicate

problem when destiny runs its own reverse: The big story

becomes the little one. The emotional high is towered by the

rational low. And a company that spent money to congratulate

frivolity has no budget or policy to condole tragedy. What a

twist of PR intent to possibily look superfluous, neglectful,

or worse yet, even callous.

LESSON #1: If an institution does goodwill advertising to

celebrate eventful achievements, it should have a contingency

policy and budget to handle eventful failures. They're just

as monumental, right around the corner, and stark backdrops

which can expose and embarass an unthought program.

BALANCE & TASTE

E

Of all the advertisers surrounding the Super Bowl/Challenger

events, no organization did a finer job in the Boston Globe

than the Stop & Shop Companies, Inc.

Stop and Shop Markets placed two, 1/4 page, congratulatory

ads; both after the game on Not-So-Super Monday and Tuesday.

Bradlees also ran two such ads; a 1/4 page on Friday before

the game and a 1/2 page on Tuesday after the game.

Additionally, on Friday, January 31, Stop and Shop Companies,

Inc. placed a 1/2 page tribute honoring the dead Astronauts.

Together the ads were a class act from start to finish.

First, no Patriot salute was ever larger than the Challenger

tribute. Second, in the Patriots salutes, both Stop and Shop

and Bradlees used their logos which were dominant; in the

Challenger tribute all logos were conspicuously absent with

just a fine print listing of the Stop and Shop Companies.

Third, in both the Patriots salutes and the Challenger

tribute, the reference was always to the team effort.. and

not to any one individual. And finally in both the Patriots

salute and the Challenger tribute the ads were pure

expressions of feelings... not banner slogans superimposed

upon product advertising. In fact all the words used in the

Challenger tribute were directly from President Reagan's

euology.

In short, Stop & Shop Companies projected a image of balance

and taste during the week of January 26. Whoever is

responsible for their public relations should be commended.

In contrast to this excellence, there were some noteable

blunders in balance and in taste:

The Lack of Balance Award has to go to John Hancock Insurance

who bought F-O-U-R full pages to hype and congratulate the

Patriots, but bought not a though to honor the Astronauts.

Clearly, John Hancock, the patriot who risked his life with

others to help forge a new nation, had more in common with

death defying space pioneers than padded and pampered foot-

ball players. Let's call John Hancock Insurance's Patriots

hype unpatriotic.

The Absence of Balance and Taste Award has to go to the

Boston Bruins who didn't even buy space to celebrate the

Patriots success. The Celtics and the Red Sox did. Let's

call the Bruins, CheapSKATES.

And then there was perplexing the Northeastern University

quarter page "In Memoriam." It's difficult to fault good

intentions, especially when such a tribute was the O-N-L-Y

other one to be placed in the Globe. (CAN YOU IMAGINE THAT!)

Unfortuneately, NU's tribute was placed directly atop of Stop

& Shop's and therein its flaw became exaggerated. For in

comparison to S & S's simple, crew tribute, NU'S looked more

like an ad for their Graduate School of Electrical

Engineering. Here's why:

The single Astronaut remembered in NU's Memoriam was Gregory

Jarvis, an NU alumnus. The quarter page tribute contained

only his NASA picture with his academic credentials and a

sentance saying that " Northeastern will remember and cherish

Gregory Jarvis as a talented alumnus...etc." (He reportedly

carried a NU banner with him for later presentation to the

school and was planning to congratulate NU's president for

ten years service from space as well.)

Certainly this eulogy wasn't tasteless. But what happened to

Christa? She was an educator just as important in the chain

of learning as a university. And what happened to the

remainder of the crew who flew a craft that was surely

engineered, directly or indirectly, by hundreds -- probably

thousands --of other NU engineering graduates.

The Challenger loss was more than that of a university's

honored son, and more than that of a region's honored teach-

er. It was national... even global All of which leads to

the second lesson.

LESSON #2 If an organization decides to place In Memoriams,

the tribute should be as universal as the loss with any

special considerations being nested within this larger

framework... otherwise it could appear self-serving (such

was the feeling of some who I surveyed).

There are no business etiquette books written covering the

modern tragedies of shuttles exploding to terrorists

attacking. In all cases, lives are being lost which evoke

both private and national sorrows. And through the media,

the privacy of such losses is becoming more public. From a

wife recovering the body of her slain, paralyzed husband, to

parents unexpectingly caught on national TV as they watch the

death of their daughter... these are the scenes that stir

our emotions and cause some to act though there is no

obligation to. (For example, MIT who graduated Astronaut

McNair from a doctorate program did not pay tribute in the

Globe) But for those that wish to publicly acknowledge

triumph and tragedy, the question is how to do it best.

The answer is with balance and taste... our two unfortunate

lessons from space.

Sottile's Winning Action Team
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Tactical Marketing Agency

"Marketing Tactics Make Corporate Strategies Happen!"
                                                                   John Sottile