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In Praise of Smart PR

Good press releases, public relations campaigns and quotes come in all shapes and forms. This week, I examine five recent public relations events to see what was done right, and in some cases, wrong.

Good Press Release, Bad Execution: “American Airlines Demands Gynecological Records of Victim’s Teenage Daughter”

Law firm Baum Hedlund issued a press release detailing efforts by American Airlines to get gynecological and psychological records of a young woman whose mother was killed in a plane crash six years ago. The document request is related to a lawsuit that Baum Hedlund has filed on behalf of the deceased’s family and against the airline.

The release is clearly meant to embarrass American Airlines and to educate the public about the company’s bizarre and humiliating legal tactics. The release accomplishes this despite some confusing information, grammar and word flow.

While I found the release linked on a few blogs, I have seen zero media coverage related to it, and that’s a shame. In journalism parlance, “this makes a good story.” The release turns up in Google News searches and on Yahoo!, but you have to know exactly what you’re looking for in order to find it, as opposed to being able to find it easily through basic searches related to American Airlines. This suggests a lack of search engine optimization.

The law firm would have been better served securing local media coverage of the lawsuit first and then issuing the release. Targeting a release towards well-read legal websites such as OverLawyered, Above The Law and The Wall Street’s Journal Law Blog would have been a good starting point. Local stories are often picked up nationally and the media, in lemming-like fashion, gives credibility to stories that peers have already covered.
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Good Press Release: “CARL ICAHN: ‘How Can a Guy Be on Eight Boards and Know What the Hell He’s Doing?'”

Handset maker Motorola is in the midst of a vicious proxy battle against billionaire Carl Icahn, who is trying to win a seat on the company’s board of directors and force some changes. Ratcheting up the PR battle, Motorola issued a press release throwing Icahn’s own words back at him, saying that the very man who once said that an individual on the boards of eight companies couldn’t possibly know what’s going on at every company is, in fact, already on the boards of eleven companies.

This made the rounds in my inbox as many of my friends and contacts on Wall Street found Motorola’s press release not just humorous, but effective in relaying an important message. Sadly for Motorola, the only reaction that matters is that of the company’s shareholders.

Regardless, the company effectively got its message across – that Icahn is being a hypocrite.
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Better Press Release: “Carl Icahn Responds to Motorola’s (NYSE:MOT) Letter to Stockholders”

It took less than two hours for Icahn to respond to Motorola, and he did so by ignoring the issues raised in the company’s press release and hammering management on the issues that shareholders actually care about – the value and future of their investments.

Icahn smartly ignored a potshot, one that he could hardly defend himself against, and went on the offensive. His most recent message is consistent with the message he’s been sending out for months, which makes Motorola’s attack look like a last-ditch effort. The corporate raider also smartly unveiled some new criticism of the company’s management.
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Good PR Campaign: Vonage’s “Free to Compete”

After a court ruled that the company infringed on patents owned by Verizon Communications, voice-over-Internet-protocol firm Vonage launched a massive public relations effort in hopes of turning the public against its larger rival. The company took out full-page ads accusing Verizon of stifling competition and launched a website, FreeToCompete.com, to get its message across.

Vonage’s PR campaign is solid and the PR team there has drummed up some very positive press coverage for the company and campaign. Unfortunately for Vonage, public relations is of little help right now, as their fate is in the hands of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

Some may question why Vonage would throw money at advertising and PR at a time like this, but the company really has little recourse. With judges deciding their fate, Vonage is banking on a groundswell of public support to help convince the court that the company’s existence is important and that Verizon’s legal standing, regardless of scholarly opinion, is not in the best interest of the law.

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Smart Quote: John Linehan of T. Rowe Price

The media world and Wall Street were knocked on their backsides on Tuesday when Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. launched a bid to acquire Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal. The $60.00 per share offer represented a 65% premium for Dow Jones, which Murdoch has long coveted.

Murdoch’s attempt to buy Dow Jones sent shock waves through the media, as many people fear that The Wall Street Journal in the hands of the media mogul will turn away from its history of independent reporting. A takeover bid at such a premium, and for a company in a space that is so negatively viewed by investors right now, would typically bring overwhelming cheers. Dow Jones, however, is a special company.

Like The New York Times Company, people view Dow Jones as something special and uniquely American. It’s one thing for Murdoch to buy MySpace, but to give him the reigns of the world’s most influential newspaper is something completely different considering his political nature. Dow Jones, the sentiment suggests, needs to be protected and remain as independent as possible.

Enter T. Rowe Price. The mutual fund giant owns a more than 11% stake in Dow Jones, making it the company’s largest shareholder outside of the controlling Bancroft family. T. Rowe Price’s main duty is to protect the interest of its investors, which means it should be particularly happy that a stock that was worth $36.33 per share on Monday is now worth $56.00 per share, boosting the value of the firm’s investment by $186 million.

T. Rowe Price, however, is taking an interesting approach to the situation.

“We’re gratified to see someone see the same value we’ve seen for some time in the assets,” John Linehan, a portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price, told the Associated Press. “It’s a reasonable offer that merits consideration.”

Linehan’s quote serves two purposes: 1) It recognizes the reality of the situation, that News Corp.’s offer for Dow Jones simply cannot be ignored; and 2) It recognize the other reality of the situation, that Dow Jones is special and News Corp. is special in a different way. By not outrightly supporting News Corp.’s offer, T. Rowe Price is telling the public that it understands that money is not the only thing riding on this deal.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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