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Scanning the Globe for Public Relations News

To put together each PR Fuel story, we spend countless hours each week on research, scanning the globe for interesting stories, insights, and ideas from the world of public relations. These are just a few of the interesting PR-related items we’ve found recently.

“Search Is Brand”

Online monitoring and response outfit Market Sentinel and search engine optimization firm Weboptimiser recently released a white paper entitled, “Search Is Brand.” The two London-based companies conducted a study “showing the challenges posed to brands by search engines and blogging and explaining the tools and techniques companies can use to fight back.”

The paper should provide those in the public relations industry with an interesting overview of how search results and blogs can impact brands, providing relevant context and some good ideas on how to combat online detractors. (Like most white papers, the study also serves as an advertisement for the respective companies’ services.)

One of my favorite passages in the paper was on “speculative optimization”:

“Optimising for events that haven’t happened yet can ensure maximum control over the message when and if they do. To take a theoretical example, Madonna might want to optimise her Web site for the phrase ‘Madonna and Guy Ritchie divorce,’ and point people to positive content on the site that emphasises how happy she and Guy are, having recently renewed their wedding vows. Then, should the marriage hit the rocks, and more people start making the search ‘Madonna and Guy Ritchie divorce,’ the site content can be updated to give her side of the story ahead of the celebrity gossip sites which might not be so positive and promoted via the paid-for listings. Other examples might be problems with common prescription drugs, online banking security scares, or issues to do with companies operations in the third world.”

The “Search Is Brand” white paper can be found at: http://www.marketsentinel.com/files/Searchisbrand280605.pdf

Chinese Companies Need Help with Public Relations

One of the hot topics in the business world of late has been Chinese companies looking towards the U.S. for expansion opportunities. In 2005, Haier, a Chinese maker of appliances, led a consortium that in talks to acquire American competitor Maytag. Haier eventually withdrew their bid, but Chinese companies’ potential inroads into corporate America have set off a firestorm of criticism from pretty much every angle. Making matters worse has been these companies’ inability to handle the American media, and their absolutely dreadful concept of public relations.

“Haier’s missteps indicate that this is a two-way street: China also lacks savvy communications pros that understand the strategic value of the U.S. press,” global communications expert Josef Blumenfeld said in a press release at the time. “Unless China’s businesses recognize the strategic imperative of savvy communications outreach, the anticipated wave of Chinese acquisitions is far from certain.”

Interestingly, Haier was also the subject of a rather glowing story in Fortune, certainly no small public relations feat. However, the company was unable to calm fears about its proposed Maytag takeover, despite the fact that its partners in a deal would be American private equity firms. If you’re looking to launch an internationally-focused public relations firm, consider tapping into China. Seems like they need some help dealing with the “free” media.

Avoiding a Public Relations Disaster Before It Happens

UPS, otherwise known as “the boys in brown,” recently dealt with a data breach. The company acknowledged that it lost a box containing data tapes containing the names, social security numbers, account numbers, and account histories of almost 4 million customers.

In recent years, there have been an abnormal number of data thefts and losses, potentially exposing millions of people to identity theft. How bad is the problem? The head of the Federal Trade Commission had her credit card information stolen from shoe-store chain DSW when the company was the victim of a database break-in. One of the FTC’s big jobs is to help consumers deal with identity theft.

While protecting consumer and customer data sounds like a job for the Chief Technology Officer, I think a public relations department needs to be proactive on this front. I don’t care if you only have 10 customer credit card numbers on file, a data breach or a misplaced file can cause serious public relations damage, and you need to be prepared to deal with the consequences.

“Every time I read about a data theft or loss, I send out an email to our technology and security people reminding them of what can happen,” a PR person for one financial services firm told me. “I’ve told them time and again that I never want to have to issue a press release apologizing for something that should have never happened in the first place.”

Memo to PR People

Don’t make Oprah Winfrey mad! The daytime talk show host/pop culture icon was recently turned away by employees at luxury store Hermes in Paris when she tried to do a little after-hours shopping. Oprah, somewhat indirectly, said it was a case of racism. Hermes, meanwhile, said it was a case of the store being closed.

There is a lesson for the public relations industry here: You’re going to lose sometimes.

People perceive events differently. Hermes found itself in a tough spot regardless of whether they were in the right. The company caters to an elite crowd–$125 neckties and tea cups–and doesn’t want to be perceived as turning away an important celebrity. Likewise, no company wants to foster a racist image, but trying to defend a corporate image when being accused of racism is historically one of most difficult problems to deal with in public relations.

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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