Monday, February 23, 2009

PR Rules: Phelps, A-Rod & The Peanut Man

PR is often misconstrued by the public at large, but PR is all about truth. Here are three foundational rules for PR with current examples.

Rule #1: Do The Right Thing. If you or your organization continues to "do the right thing" and to communicate your good intentions, then you typically will have a strong reputation among your community and various publics. For example, Kellogg's announced a recall of Keebler and Austin products containing suspicious peanut butter on January 16. It was a voluntary recall, and at the time, Kellogg wasn't positive that its products were tainted, but Kellogg cared about the possible safety of the consumer. Kellogg was the first company to do this...before the FDA had completed its investigation. Many other companies soon followed suit. Kellogg put the safety of its customers before its own bottom line. Kellogg did the right thing, and in the long term, that will increase its bottom line.

Rule #2: If You Don't Do The Right Thing The First Time, Admit To It. Be Apologetic And Sincere. Face The Consequences. OK, people and organizations make mistakes. That's a given. It's how you react to the mistakes that really counts. So you messed up. Doing the right thing means that you confess, you apologize and you pay the consequences. If you don't take these steps, check out Rule #3.

For examples of Rule #2, let's look at Michael Phelps and Alex Rodriguez. Winner of eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, Michael Phelps returned to America as a hero. Within months of his return, though, a photo made its way to a British tabloid showing Phelps up-close-and-personal with marijuana paraphenalia. The story and photo soon exploded throughout the airwaves, the Internet and in major publications throughout the world. Phelps was widely criticized for his behavior and for letting down all the youth who look up to him. Very quickly, Phelps released a statement apologizing for his behavior. We can question whether he or his agent wrote the statement; we can question his motivation; but we can't question the correctness of his action. If you make a mistake, fess up to it and be apologetic. Get back into the pool and work hard!

Let's move on to Alex Rodriguez, arguably the #1 player in Major League Baseball, even if he does play for the NY Yankees. Sports Illustrated published an article claiming that A-Rod used steroids for several years in the early 2000s while playing for the Texas Rangers. As with the Michael Phelps story, the media coverage was intense. Following Rule #2, A-Rod admitted to using steroids and publicly apologized. He conducted a long interview with Peter Gammons and then held a press conference during spring training. While I don't completely buy his excuse that he was "young" and that the atmosphere around him was loosey-goosey, I do think his statements are correct PR steps.

Rule #3: If You Don't Do The Right Thing, And You Cover It Up And Lie, PR Will Not Help You! There are so many examples of this (Kwame Kilpatrick), it's hard to know where to start! Let's look at the recent example of Stewart Parnell, president of the Peanut Corporation of America, who knowingly supplied contaminated peanuts to corporate clients. The salmonella-laced peanut butter killed nine people throughout the United States, and thousands of products have been recalled by various suppliers. It looks like Parnell knew about the contamination and released his peanuts any way because he put profit over public safety. Parnell is in such a mess now that when he appeared before Congress to answer questions about his actions, all he could do was take the Fifth. PR methods will not help him now because he did not do the right thing at any time!

Remember, PR is about "doing the right thing!"

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