“Image is everything” – Andre Agassi, former tennis pro
In the mid 1990s tennis star Andre Agassi was in a series of TV commercials for Canon that used this tag line. It was an interesting play on words because, for the most part, Agassi had been all style and little substance since he rarely won major tournaments. Granted, he would go on to shake that image and win major events, but the long hair, headband and rock-n-roll style of behavior made the tag line famous.
His commercials came to mind as I was reading a Wall Street Journal blog about how the Chinese government is using PR in the United States to improve its international image. China’s State Council Information Office, which is the voice of the government, has a series of famous Chinese images being shown in Times Square that are repeated 300 times a day. To help spread the gospel, there is even a new application for Apple’s iPad so that people can view these ads. Seems to me to be quite a bit of money and effort to try and shape the image of a repressive government, but that’s a story for another day.
But it got me thinking…when PR is used as a smoke-and-mirrors tactic can it be effective? If a dictatorship like China can simply share positive images via multiple technology platforms to try to improve its international image, then what’s so hard about conducting PR campaigns? I guess that all you have to have is money to share whatever ideas, news or images you want and voila you have a new image, right? If that’s true then the richest companies should all automatically win the PR battle.
While that may be true in many cases, there are notable exceptions. For example, could British Petroleum, one of the richest oil companies in the world, buy its way out of the Gulf oil spill? No.
Quality PR campaigns involve strategic planning which incorporates input from multiple people within a company. Questions such as “what brand image do we want to share,” “what do experts and third-party endorsements stand for,” and “what are customers saying after they use our product” are key questions that need to be asked before rolling out a campaign.
In my mind PR is about conveying a message or idea based on a credible reality, not implausible partial truths like the Chinese government is spreading. As long as the news headlines continue to be dominated by stories about censorship and repression, China’s image building campaign will fall flat. Image building doesn’t work if you have a rotten core. Major league baseball could talk all it wanted about steroid control, but until it truly started cleaning up the game its image was deteriorating badly.?
Successful companies or campaigns, such as Subway’s “Jared/eat healthy” campaign, are based on true stories with ideas that people can relate too since they know them to at least be grounded in truth. For tech companies, product launches can present many challenges including how to get the attention of editors, creating supporting documentation, developing consistent messaging, and securing referenceable customers. That last item is the key – PR efforts are most effective when built around products that customers actually want and that meet a real market need.
So the next time you are planning a new product launch or campaign, remember that PR works best when you REALLY have something to say.