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Gini Dietrich

Will Lack of Creativity Be the Demise of the PR Industry?

By: Gini Dietrich | October 22, 2012 | 
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Have you seen that Visa commercial where the little girl asks Ray Lewis questions during a press conference, such as, “Hashbrowns or home fries” and “Do you like my dress?”?

It’s one of my favorite commercials because a) I totally want to interview an NFL player (cough, Tom Brady, cough) and ask silly questions and b) It’s about time someone have fun with these guys instead of being armchair quarterbacks.

Along the same lines, last week, Pizza Hut offered one person a lifetime supply of pizzas if, during the Presidential debate, they asked President Obama or Mitt Romney if they preferred sausage or pepperoni.

Admittedly probably not the best place for a branded question, but a pizza every week for 30 years? Who doesn’t want to win that?

OK, and let’s be real, all of the questions are vetted so it never would have made it to the televised event, but it certainly has everyone talking about something other than healthcare and women’s rights and tax returns and whether or not our President is a citizen.

Perhaps we need a little levity as we approach the elections. I still think it would have been ridiculously funny (though maybe not very smart) if President Obama had come out on stage, placed an empty chair behind the podium, and said, “Talk to that.”

But I digress.

Is All Publicity Good?

As quickly as the Pizza Hut campaign began, it ended.

Kurt Kane, their chief marketing officer said, ”Some of the attention we received was not positive. So, we decided the question was better served online than in the debate itself.”

And communications professionals, including someone I admire and respect deeply – KD Paine – are up in arms.

And why shouldn’t we be? Not all publicity is good.

Sure, everyone from bloggers to Stephen Colbert are talking about it. But not in a good way.

And yet, Forbes contributor, Aaron Perlut, called the campaign “brilliant” and called for more PR pros to use creativity like this instead of executing campaigns that require,

Bullpens full of interns emailing news releases that are not, in fact, news; or calling and leaving scripted voicemails for reporters that do little more than irritate the recipient.

I don’t disagree.

Lose the Battle and the War?

He goes on to say,

I sincerely hope more practitioners take a cue from the likes of Pizza Hut, go against the grain of the typical PR playbook, and consider how the brand squarely centered itself inside of a lively debate – with millions and millions of eyeballs focused on it, providing great visibility and a healthy topping of buzz.

Otherwise, PR will continue losing these battles, and ultimately, the war.

Like Perlut, I cut my teeth on reputation management and big brand crisis communications. I also don’t lean toward PR stunts for either of those types of programs.

But losing the battle – and ultimately the war – because we don’t tend to be as creative as advertising agencies?

If we lose the war, it won’t be because we aren’t creative. It will be because we still have bullpens of interns distributing news releases and because we don’t use technology to increase the tools in our toolboxes and measure our efforts against real business goals.

Whether or not this hurts the sales at Pizza Hut is yet to be seen. But you can bet their PR chief, Doug Terfehr, knows exactly what he’s doing – creative or not.

A version of this first appeared on Ragan.

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This Wednesday, October 24, join Mark Story for a Livefyre Q&A to discuss his book, “Starting Your Career as a Social Media Manager.”

He’ll be live from 12-1 ET so set a reminder and then come hang out in the comments to ask him questions about love, life, and his book.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

111 comments
joshchandler
joshchandler

In my opinion, the PR playbook was torn up years ago. There is no traditional PR anymore. It's just a lot of businesses trying to figure out how the heck the new marketing tools work.

 

I also think that Pizza Hut was an established player who had wide enough scope and reach to run with this idea. The amount of small businesses that try to capitalize on the same event such as the presidential debates often fail because they simply don't have the reach. 

KateFinley
KateFinley

Oh man wish I could have jumped into this convo sooner!

 

Besides the fact that if I won the pizza, I could not eat it ... I think this idea is fun! Why not capitalize on current events that everyone is buzzing about? Yes, it wasn't something other brands were doing but that's where some of the most original and buzz-catching campaigns often come from.

 

I didn't see the campaign but it sounds like it could be done tastefully (pun intended.) And after all the talk of women being uncomfortable with some of the debates (blah) because of how intense they were and since it seems like the President has a lighthearted side, I'm sure the candidates would welcome a lighter question. Although, I imagine Mrs. Obama would have something to say about either option :)

jonbuscall
jonbuscall

@ginidietrich So how do we realistically promote creativity? Inhouse or outsourced?

imeanwhat
imeanwhat

@tedcoine @ginidietrich no it's all the mediocrity and lack of reference in the new breed. PR has become the replacement for waiters jobs.

@RebeccaAmyTodd Makes me want pizza!

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

I don't know whether the Pizza Hut campaign was brilliant or a cheap stunt. I love my country and hate to see brands make a mockery made of our political process -- our politicians do a good enough job of that already. But newsjacking is a time-honored marketing tradition, so... I just don't know. 

 

At the same time, I'd be shocked to see this hurt Pizza Hut in any way. 

 

By the way: Here's one of my favorite politically-incorrect commercials of all time, I never really thought about whether political exiles find it insulting. And I'm sure it didn't help the product all that much. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-smeSlQXO0

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

Ahh once again I will be disagreeing with @ginidietrich and @belllindsay .  Honestly, I find the American electoral process ridiculous enough without product placement.  While I would have loved to see someone go rogue and ask a real question during the debates, encouraging people to toss away a real opportunity for a branding opportunity is really terrible. Whatever the PR strategy behind this is, in practice this is insulting, even to a Canadian. I want to say something brilliant about the commoditization of politics, but I haven't had enough coffee. 

JasKeller
JasKeller

So there are a lot of different arguments taking place in this post, and some I agree with, and some might be a little misguided. 

 

First off, risk: Yes, it is a problem within our industry and there are a lot more campaigns out there that "play not to lose" instead of "playing to win." 

 

Second, a lack of creativity: Yes, there is a lack of creativity that goes into many PR campaigns out there. I wouldn't necessarily say that all (or that many at all) are poor PR campaigns are cause by the work being executed by interns cold calling and submitting crappy press releases. I feel like one of the biggest hindrances is actually over-vetting ideas and the group think that is a product of excessive approvals and reviews.

 

Third, advertising more creative? Hardly. Many PR campaigns are executed with less budget and more barriers, so I would argue you need to be pretty damn creative to break through the clutter. Advertising has the advantage of selling "reach" as their key value-add which enables them a larger paid audience - which is different than being more creative. (not to say there aren't a ton of brilliant people and campaigns in advertising - just that it isn't apples to apples). 

 

...so when it comes to Pizza Hut, yes, they took a risk, which I commend to a certain degree. No, I don't think it was successful; I think it was a commercialization attempt of a presidential election which has already been battered by over-politicization and a lack of integrity. That said, I'm glad we're talking about it. I think there is a lot to learn from the points you've put forward. 

 

 

TaraGeissinger
TaraGeissinger

I actually liked the Pizza Hut stunt. Maybe it's because I live in Florida and am so tired of the election and all of the ads right now. :) I didn't really see it as disrespectful. In fact, I kind of thought it might humanize both candidates to find out what type of pizza they like best! You're right, it never would have made it into the debate anyway, but it's still disappointing that they fell to pressure and pulled the campaign.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @joshchandler I wish that were true. But there are many, many, many organizations still wanting traditional PR and not wanting to take the "risk" to participate online in any way. We turn away at least five prospects a month because all they want a PR firm to do is media relations. When we explain that's not what we do, they go on to find someone who does.

Latest blog post: The Lance Armstong PR Crisis

RebeccaAmyTodd
RebeccaAmyTodd

@IglesiaPresents Indeed! I'm always up for a debate, let's be honest...

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @RebeccaTodd  I'm so sick and tired of the election and the debate and the binders full of women that I would just love a little bit of levity. So what if the person asked it and then got to ask the real question? It would have made people laugh and the person would have gotten a lifetime supply of pizza (and gotten fat, too).

maryanneconlin
maryanneconlin

 @JasKeller1 I think that risk has its place in any marketing plan. I had a boss once who told me to always have a portfolio approach to planning - some programs should be safe, some should be risky and some in between...a lot like stock investing, I think :-)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @JasKeller1 I wrote last week about the overuse of the news release and how, sometimes, it would just be better to release your news on Twitter in 140 characters. I say this for the very reason in your second point. News releases are so overly vetted and overly reviewed and edited that they're not longer news. It makes me batty!

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @JasKeller1 , love your third point.

 

This may sound counterintuitive, but boundaries can be a great driver of creativity. Boundaries like (1) a strategy that hits the right emotional buttons (2) a competitor that's has taken the more obvious approach (3) a low budget that forces you to dig deep down for ideas. 

 

In the ad agency world I used to run into creative people who wanted their assignments to be easy. One of best creative thinkers I ever ran across was Jerry Andelin, who was Hal Riney's partner. His favorite saying was: "If it were easy, anyone could do it." 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @TaraGeissinger I still think Obama bringing a chair on to the stage and telling Romney to talk to that would have been hilarious. But alas...

joshchandler
joshchandler

 @ginidietrich Well, let's hope that change happens quickly. We can't afford to be thinking about traditional media relations anymore.

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @ginidietrich I would have rather them go off script and ask something real, like tell me more about your polygamist grandpa, Mitt, or maybe what the heck is Mitt short for, anyway, Mitten? Because that's what I have been going with. 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @barrettrossie  @JasKeller1 Hmmm...Barrett, I'm beginning to think you had the same "objections to opportunities" sales training as I did...or maybe you are just a Pollyanna, like me. 

JasKeller
JasKeller

 @barrettrossie Not counter-intuitive at all! I was going to write more about the reality that PR is just hard these days... but I was already exceeding the character-count most attention spans can handle. ;-) 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @Erin F.  @barrettrossie I get all hung up on whether things are "right" or not.  And if I oppose Pizza Hut interfering here, would it not be hypocritical to think this is ok? 

stevenmcoyle
stevenmcoyle

 @RebeccaTodd  I've been trying to figure what Mitt is short for forever. I need to see a birth certificated. lol

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @ginidietrich Ahh see I would like to see a little more pot-stirring. And wouldn't it be better for Mitt to be able to honestly address the whole polygamy thing? But you know me G I am all about getting people fired up. To me, this is getting close to the coca-colonization of politics.  Tonight's debate- brought to you by Shienhardt Wigs! 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @RebeccaTodd But then you'd have a whole lot of people pissed off. I was raised Mormon and one of the biggest misconceptions of the religion is polygamy. Pizza - sausage or pepperoni - isn't religious or political or anything else that can get people fired up for their beliefs. 

RebeccaTodd
RebeccaTodd

 @barrettrossie Yes- the instant I can get people to be honest about their objections is the instant I know I have them hooked. Get that zing! feeling every time. Textbook example last week, and the outcome couldn't have been better. 

barrettrossie
barrettrossie

 @RebeccaTodd  We were treated to an objection handling course at The Martin Agency. Changing objections to opportunities was the best part. That's why no one wins political arguments with me. 

 

j/k

 

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