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.


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.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich