Pulse of the Profession

Friday Five: No Hard Feelings

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Friday Five LogoIt’s a public relations professional’s nightmare: a highly influential public figure with a popular television show decides to trash your brand for no particular reason. It’s not about a particular mistake you made, nor is it about your executives or your initiatives. Instead, he pokes fun at your product on a regular basis as an audience laughs in the background. Your first reaction may be to defend your brand; however, patience and thick skin may make you a winner in the long run.

In this week’s Friday Five — PRSA’s take on the week’s biggest news stories — we’ll discuss Arby’s response after years of ribbing by Jon Stewart, and share four other lessons for PR professionals.

Here’s what we learned this week:

1. Arby’s: They Know How to Take a Joke

Nobody is quite sure why Jon Stewart began poking fun at fast food chain Arby’s on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” years ago, but the host has been relentless in his disgust for the brand. That’s why people were surprised, amused and impressed (PRNewser’s Sean Paul Wood even called it a PR win) when Arby’s shared this amusing tweet to Stewart in February when he announced his departure from “The Daily Show”:

As we bid farewell (or #JonVoyage) this week to Stewart, Arby’s once again stepped up to the plate, this time in the form of a well-placed, amusing ad. We all know the saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity,” but do you think that this took it one step too far? Personally, I think that the best way to handle someone poking fun at you is to make fun of yourself. This ad proved to the world that Arby’s has a sense of humor. They took the jokes well, and in return for their patience and humor, they have millions of viewers talking about their brand this week.

 2. Pinterest Sets Diversity Goals

As we celebrate Diversity Month during August at PRSA, we turn to companies and their quests to reflect the diverse audiences that they serve. Just last week, Pinterest announced its own diversity goals via its blog, Oh, How Pinteresting! Evan Sharp, Pinterest co-founder and chief creative officer, stated that while the company made some modest gains recently, it’s setting public goals to hold itself accountable. Sharp said, “By sharing these goals publicly, we’re holding ourselves accountable to make meaningful changes to how we approach diversity at Pinterest. We’ll also be sharing what’s working and what isn’t as we go, so hopefully other companies can learn along with us. Over time, we hope to help build an industry that is truly diverse, and by extension more inclusive, creative and effective.” With this public announcement, you understand that Pinterest is truly taking diversity seriously. When you announce specific goals, there is no opportunity to hide. You will either hit your goals or splendidly fail in front of the world. With every PR venture, measurable goals are a must. While many tech companies have reported “progress” in this area, Pinterest will be able to truly prove their efforts. As Fortune‘s Kristen Bellstrom states, “Here’s hoping that next year, thanks to company’s bold public pledge, we’ll be reporting numbers that actually earn the ‘progress’ label.”

3. Generous Maternity Leave Policies Result in Positive Press

It’s unfortunate, but in the United States of America, maternity leave is a privilege not a right. While many mothers are covered for 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), many working moms have to make the decision to go back to work early to help make ends meet financially. Though companies aren’t obligated to offer above and beyond what’s legally required, many companies are now making headlines for doing just that. Just this week, Microsoft and Netflix received a plethora of positive press for expanding their maternity (and paternity) leave policies. While this new mom is thrilled to hear this news, and am happy about all of the positive press surrounding the announcements, I do agree that in order to make this work, the culture of these companies must change. Internal communicators must be sure that other employees (especially bosses and supervisors) support those taking advantage of this benefit. How do you suggest companies communicate these expanded benefits to employees?

4. After a Scandal, Carefully Choose Your Words

Many college campuses in the United States have been plagued by issues related sexual assault, and Vanderbilt University is certainly one of them. Just about two years ago, two former Vanderbilt football players were found guilty of raping a young woman on campus. Therefore, when Vanderbilt football sent a tweet that included an image that said “We Don’t Need Your Permission,” Twitter followers predictably reacted strongly. Quite often, social media is delegated to young interns or new professionals. While I am unsure of whether naiveté was at play in this situation, the lesson is clear: following a crisis, you must carefully choose every word in all types of communication. Also, while new professionals may be more “social media savvy,” seasoned professionals must work with them closely on strategy and execution. 

5. Even Muppets Can Arrange a Press Conference

While the early 80s child inside of me lamented the “decoupling” of one of my favorite couples — Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy — my PR practitioner side rejoiced. If you haven’t heard via social media, the couple announced their breakup during the Television Critics Association press tour this past Tuesday. The news set up the series premiere of “The Muppets,” a new television show on ABC premiering this fall. Some PR pros lamented this as a cheap publicity stunt. Of course it is! But the stunt is also brilliant and in line with the corny, in-your-face, lovable humor of the Muppets. How do you know it worked? Every single news publication that I read covered the news, from TIME magazine to brainless celebrity gossip sites. What do you think of “The Muppets” stunt? Let us know in the comments below.

About the author

Rosanne Mottola, APR

Rosanne Mottola, APR

Rosanne Mottola, APR, is public relations manager for the Public Relations Society of America. She is an adjunct professor of public relations at St. John’s University, Staten Island. Mottola obtained a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications from New York University in 2010. You can connect with her on Twitter @RoeMoPR or on LinkedIn.

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