I’ve been doing a little more thinking about the lists of big PR goofs in 2009, then this new one comes along to help start the new year: A billboard association wants to show that people pay attention to billboards so they put a message certain to get attention: “Career women make bad mothers.”
Sure enough, worked great. Lots of attention and a lot of p’d-off moms. Surprise. I guess the question is whether or not the apology they made was sincere or was it all part of the planned campaign. Is the old adage of say anything you want about me but just get my name spelled right still a part of PR thinking? No doubt, getting attention in this hyper-crowded information environment is tricky and requires some creativity. But, does it require you to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater or to intentionally offend and antagonize your audience?
There are two strong beliefs I have that would help make decisions in situations such as this. One, is that ultimately what matters is building and maintaining strong relationships. That’s true of business, careers, government agencies, etc. The second part, and closely related is that character matters. People want to know if you can be trusted, if you have good judgment, if you will operate with their needs and concerns in mind when push really comes to shove. This kind of campaign, and the other goof-ball PR stunts that backfired would fail those two tests. I guess the bottom line here is that if PR is all about getting attention at any cost, this billboard company succeeded. But if it is about building trust with people who really matter to your future, it blew up big time in their face. Lesson learned.