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Welcome to the PR War

I admit it, I’m glued to the television.

Back in New York, my television doesn’t even get reception, a nasty reminder of Sept. 11 (the main broadcast antenna for local television was on top of one of the World Trade Center buildings). But I’m down in the mountains of Northern Georgia on a working vacation and aside from hiking or playing a round of golf, television is the only thing around. The war has begun and television is bringing it right into my living room.

Somewhere out there beyond the war of weapons and men is a public relations war. Now, more than ever, it will take good PR people, good clients and a good strategy to get your message across. The world has its collective eyes turned toward Iraq and it will be difficult to pry them away.

With that said, let’s take a look at some interesting PR matters, news and ideas that are in focus.

WE HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!

An odd item hit the wire on Wednesday night. “Cisco Says It Will Make ‘Significant’ Announcement Thursday,” read the headline. Cisco Systems, for those who don’t know, is a data-network equipment maker and one of the most widely traded stocks out there.

The news item, from Dow Jones Business News, is odd in that it simply says, “A Cisco Systems Inc. spokesman said Wednesday evening that the company will make a ‘significant’ announcement Thursday morning, but declined to comment on the nature of the news.” The story even tells the reader that a press release will be available at 8:30 AM on Thursday.

There are a few ways to interpret this.

One is simply that the company does have a major announcement ready for Thursday and wants to ensure that people know it’s coming. The war is eating valuable media resources and even journalists like myself have to stop and pay attention to “news” that we normally don’t cover. The “leak” that a major announcement is coming could simply be a way of saying, “Hey! Don’t forget about us!”

Another way to look at it is that an actual leak hit a media outlet and this was Cisco’s way of doing damage control. “Look,” the PR person says to the journalist, “You’re on the right track, but I just can’t tell you. I will say we’re making a major announcement tomorrow and you can get that scoop.”

Either way, it’s very strange that a pre-announcement announcing the release of an upcoming press release would come out of a major company.

THE WAR HAS BEGUN, WE WANT IN ON THE ACTION

With any big event comes opportunity and just because it’s a war, that doesn’t mean people aren’t looking to cash in.

You decide whether these people are opportunists in the good or the bad sense:

Headline: “9/11-Type Fund Established for Dead Soldiers’ Families”

Link: http://biz.yahoo.com/iw/030319/052152.html

My View: The use of the word “dead” is an odd choice and the release itself rattles on forever. The “fund” states it is a nonprofit organization in the release, but doesn’t provide the necessary legal speak. On the firm’s website it says it has applied for nonprofit status, but that’s not good enough for me and I would never write about such an outfit.
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Headline: “New Website Launched for Support of Our Troops Overseas”

Link: http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/030319/phw042_1.html

My View: The headline is a little deceiving as the website in question is more there to let people bash the French. Kudos to the guys for supporting the economy by paying for a press release, but the site looks like something that was built with more heart than head.
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Headline: “Is War Justified? Highlight and Share Opinions with N-LITER Study Suite”

Link: http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/030319/flw007_1.html

My View: I still don’t understand what this company’s product is and what the war has to do with it. But hey, they used the word “war” and that’s all that matters.
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ARE YOU BEING TOLD NOT TO PITCH?

A PR friend of mine out west told me on Wednesday that a local media outlet told him not to pitch them for the next three weeks due to the war. I checked with some other PR people and found out that some media outlets, or at least individual journalists, are letting PR people know that pitching right now is a bad idea.

However, as I wrote last month, there’s still plenty of pages in the newspaper. I wouldn’t count on TV or radio being interested while the war is going on, but newspapers have defined sections for a reason. Now is also a good time to use the power of trade publications and monthly magazines.

Yes, getting attention from the media will be hard while the war is happening (and who knows how long this will last), but people have jobs to do and a lot of those jobs in the media don’t entail covering the war.

THE INTERSECTION OF ADVERTISING AND PR

As we’ve seen, the war can throw a wrench into PR plans. It also means that advertising agendas change.

Automaker Toyota said on Wednesday that it won’t run television ads during the war. The strategy is two-pronged: There is limited advertising space available due to news coverage and the company would rather be associated with better times.

If that’s not a PR strategy, I don’t know what is.

DaimlerChrysler said it would try to avoid advertising on television news magazine shows, which no doubt will focus heavily on the war and related stories.

THE OSCARS, A PR DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN?

This year’s Academy Awards could literally ruin careers. “Just being nominated” is usually a good thing, but if recipients this year choose to use the stage as a soap box for their political views, the ramifications could be enormous.

Country stars The Dixie Chicks have already seen what happens when you make a stand. The trio made anti-war and anti-Bush remarks at a concert in England recently and the effects were devastating. Some radio stations in the group’s main fan base area have pulled the group’s songs from the air and some fans have said they’ll never support the group again.

The group’s PR disaster is a lesson for us all: Once you’re in the public eye, anything you say, matters. Remember this the next time your client is asked for a comment on a particular issue.

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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