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Public Relations and the Art of the Promotional Offer

Promotions are a great a way for companies to jump-start sales, raise brand awareness, and reward and retain customers. The marketing department typically comes up with the ideas, and then public relations department are charged with helping promote them. But at what point in the promotional process should the public relations department become involved?

I asked this question of a friend in the public relations industry who, several years ago, had to deal with the fallout of a promotional offer gone bad. Because he still works at the same company, he asked to remain anonymous.

“When we received the promotional material from the marketing department, we knew we had a potential problem on our hands,” he told me. “We raised our concerns but were told that it was too late because the materials had already been produced, events had been set up, and the promotional offer basically could not be stopped.”

The concerns raised by the company’s public relations department proved to be warranted, as the promotional offer turned into a fiasco that involved negative publicity and angry customers.

“What should have been a positive for the company turned into a disaster,” the PR person said. “We spent weeks cleaning up the mess. Luckily, this was just before the internet boom. Had this happened now, it would have been much worse.”

The main problem with the promotional campaign, my public relations pal said, was that the public relations department was not involved in the early stages of the process. Had this occurred, he said, the issues later raised by the public would have been raised internally and the promotional offer would have been adjusted accordingly.

“The marketing people had the right idea, but they let their excitement obscure their better judgment,” the long-time PR pro told me. “When we had time to sit back and evaluate the situation, we found that we were just as much to blame because we did not push them to give us details before the project was too far along to change.”

In the end, my friend believes that the promotional offer gone awry cost the company more than $1 million to fix and at least two people their jobs.

“One responsibility of a PR person is to play devil’s advocate,” he said. “It’s important that we get that opportunity when it involves anything that can affect the image of the company.”

Truer words are seldom spoken.

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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