Messages are not always understood the way they are intended. This, I believe is the most important thing to remember as you do any work in public relations or media.
No matter what the company does, what content they create, what kind of campaign it is, or how good the intentions are, it is never certain that the audience will understand a campaign in the intended way. This is why research, and especially examining case studies are so important. And that’s precisely what we were shown this week.
Just as your Facebook page can show you what you appear as to all your friends (and enemies), I believe every PR campaign should be put through a similar filter. Keep in mind that people have experiences, memories, thoughts and opinions that affect what they take away from a campaign. Semiotics helps us to understand this, but not all companies are successful in just reading their material from a reader’s perspective. For example, an email from Adidas just four years after the Boston Marathon bombing contained the subject line ‘Congrats, you survived the Boston Marathon!’ I shouldn’t need to explain why that was an issue (click here for more).
To a more positive PR experience, my favourite example from the lecture was the reactive campaign in response to the ‘KFC has no chicken’ scandal (yes, scandal) from earlier this year. Thinking about PR, crisis response is one of the first roles that jumps into my head, and seeing it done well is honestly, quite refreshing. KFC’s main priority were its employees, which showed they really understood and cared about who their stakeholders were in the situation. They closed stores to solve front end issues, and released a clever, confident and clear apology. The way they handled a very time-senstive situation with calmness and coordination was applaudable. I hope their PR team all got raises.
I recently saw a similar situation, although a little less urgent, regarding Grill’d’s vegan cheeseburger. They recently released a second version:
Upon seeing the post about the burger, I investigated and discovered that the original burger’s release hadn’t been a huge hit. A quote from the new page said, ‘Everyone deserves a second chance, and we’re here to ask for ours.’ (Read more here!)
Grill’d released a product that didn’t go so well, but rather than hiding it and deleting every trace it existed, they acknowledged the mistake publicly, took feedback into account and re-released it to create something better. I love the way this portrays the two-way symmetrical model, where Grill’d not only listened to and acted upon feedback, but also then pointed this out to their customers, which went a long way towards maintaining relationships with their publics and stakeholders.
As said by Meghan Farren, the chief marketing officer of KFC UK and Ireland in this video,
‘Brands are like people; they’re run by human beings, and if you want people to connect with other people you are authentic, and open, and honest, and humble.’
This sentiment is seen flowing throughout KFC and Grill’d’s responses to their separate issues. They responded sincerely, respectfully and apologetically, as you’d hope your best friend would apologise when they just had the last sip of your drink. But, I know you’re all hanging out for another PR fail, so here you go:
Remember when United Airlines kicked that guy off that flight? For a reminder, have a quick squiz at this article.
United Airlines’ response was arguably inauthentic and feels ‘put on’. They don’t apologise to the man affected, and barely accept there was an issue at all. This isn’t what builds relationships with consumers. Consumers are humans; they want honesty about what happened and a real apology. Neither of these came from United Airlines, and their reputation has suffered since.
From what I’ve gathered these past three weeks, the best PR campaigns show that they care about their publics and stakeholders, use two-way communication systems, and think about what the consumer will see and what connotations might be created. And as you’ve seen today, case studies are an amusing, and very valuable resource for anyone planning a campaign.