By definition, Public Relations (whether online or off) can either be practiced proactively or reactively. Most companies however seem to choose the later. Being proactive means listening to your constituents (both current and prospective). It means looking for opportunities to demonstrate honest relevance and goodwill. When Children’s Gifts were stolen from a local Hospital Christmas Toy Fund in Toronto, MATTEL stepped in donated more toys then were taken (ensuring that the children received the “hottest” toys of the season. Not only were MATTEL portrayed as Hero’s (rightfully so), but they also created more buzz and demand for their “hottest” toys of the season (with national coverage).
What’s happening and being adopted at a local level, especially related to civil liberties, will likely be extended nationally and backed by legislation. To this end, when upscale bakery and sandwich shop chain Panera Bread realized that more and more cities were demanding (all) restaurants post health information, they assumed state and federal regulations were likely to follow. So instead of waiting, the chain is getting a ton of free press and positive publicity for being the “first” national (fast-casual) restaurant chain in the US to address this immediately across all locations. What’s clear is that adopting customer-friendly policies, even when you're not required to, can make you a hero in the eyes of your customers. Read more about Panera Bread in the Chicago Sun-Times article.
Face your demons
Things happen sometimes that are entirely out of our control. We’re human. Don't let a controversial issue distract you, your organization or fellow employees. Sometimes it's best to get ahead of unnecessary drama by talking about it, by apologizing and moving on, or by using a little humor to laugh it off. After Vice President Joe Biden was overhead cursing while introducing the President at the health care bill's signing, the press and blogosphere made an issue of it. But rather than release some hollow apology, the White House turned the gaffe into a T-shirt. For $25 USD, supporters of the bill can buy a "Health Reform is a BFD" T-shirt (but due to high demand, they're asking everyone to allow 6-8 weeks for delivery). ;) The goal is to try and turn what initially might seem a negative into a positive and stay ahead of controversy by killing it with a little humour. More on BarackObama.com
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