Shell VP Media Relations recently gave an interview to one the UK’s major PR magazines, PR Week, presumably to boost credibility or to raise its profile, but instead, this main feature interview effectively ended with these words from the interviewer:
‘So Shell finds itself incapable of doing anything other than selling a product that is destroying the planet.’
Media interviews are one of PR (Public Relations) much sought after tools. However PR is different to other communications tools like advertising, since PR has a low cost, yet high credibility but with very low control (over the message). Credibility of the message is deemed a lot higher via PR generated editorial coverage (as readers assume it’s a journalist who writes it when often it is simply a well written news release) than messages delivered via advertising. The negative quote about Shell demonstrates the uncontrollable nature of PR (compared to advertising where you can control the message).
Live By The Sword, Die By The Sword
I once was bitten by some negative editorial exposure when, ironically, I launched an award winning, training video about PR, called ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’ with Emma Freud presenting amidst 3 screens packing in 90 mins of action into a 30 min video broken into 6 sections with onscreen questions at the beginning of each section.
It was before the internet and went on to win awards and sell very well. As our primary target market was PR people, journalists, media and marketing people, we gave a limited edition Parker Pen made from smelted nuclear missiles (SS16 and Persian Missiles) complete with a certificate of authenticity and donation to a children’s war charity. The pens were the same as those used by Gorbachov and Reagan when the signed the nuclear peace treaty. The news release went out and next day we were on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Later that week we gota two page spread in a key magazine, Training Today, with the following words whcih I will never forget:
Any Publicity Is NOT Good Publicity
‘Award of the year for gratuitous bad taste goes to PR Smith and his PR Training Video company, PRTV.’ Ouch! Live by the sword – die by the sword (since journalists believe the pen is mightier than the sword!). Absolutely no control over the message but very low cost (just a couple of hundred quid). I guess despite the negative press coverage, it did spread the message but not in an ideal format. You can read the full case in Marketing Communications 6th ed. by Smith and Zook (2016).
Don’t ever believe ‘any publicity is good publicity – where is Gerald Ratner now?’ Where is Gerald Ratner and his international jewelery chains now? . After he told the press that his jewellery was ‘crap’, his business went downhill.
Develop Credibility Before Raising Visibility
The old adage: ‘Develop Credibility Before raising Visibility‘ makes a lot of sense in business. The corollary makes a lot of sense: ‘Having Developed Credibility, Don’t Destroy It With Stupid High Visibility Comments’ as in the case of Gerald Ratner.
So the risk you take with low cost, high credibility tools like PR is clearly seen in this PR Week interview with Shell’s VP Media Relations, Andy Norman. Had Andy known that the interviewer, Alex Benady, was going to finish the interview with a paragraph shown below, would he have done the interview in the first place? Andy, if you are out there, please let me know or, perhaps share your advice for others regarding the risk return trade-off between lack of message control, low cost and high credibility of message.
‘So Shell finds itself incapable of doing anything other than selling a product that is destroying the planet. Faced with shareholders who will not compromise on their returns and consumers who refuse refuse to compromise on their consumption, it will take all Norman’s powers of engagement to square that particular circle.’ Bernady 2015
Perhaps some of Shell’s legacy is biasing journalists? Shell’s underground (allegedly) ‘raw’ gas pipe in Co. Mayo, Ireland split the community, imprisoned teachers and provoked a documentary movie called ‘The Pipe’.
Another documentary, called ‘Pipe Down’ explored the issue and challenged Shell’s actions (60 minute documentary).
Regardless of who wins the case, does this controversial project, or any other controversial events (Shell in Nigeria, Smith 2016) generate a lingering negative feeling towards a brand like Shell? Perhaps it generates negative attitudes amongst journalists and influencers, long after the controversial project has ‘calmed down’? is it possible that this project or other stories influenced the journalist writing the piece?
Would It Work On Blab.im?
I just wonder how this interview would have worked if it was done on Blab.im (ie via a mobile with a live video feed and video recording capturing, for posterity, the reactions from the interview and a finishing comment like that).
The Uncontrollable Nature of PR
So, regardless of what platform you use (whether Blab.TV, TV, Mainstream Media, News Distribution specialists,Social Media etc.), PR is simply not controllable. Editors and journalists can change the intended message.
The Power Of Creative PR
Having said that, there are many news releases published in the media, verbatim, carrying the exact intended message (with high credibility as it is deemed to be written by a journalist) to a carefully targeted audience. There are also examples where a great image or video can generate massive coverage (as in the ‘swimming pool in the sky’ image (below), which incidentally wasn’t a photograph but rather, it was a graphic image created by a designer.
This image was created and distributed to the media (with a press release). It generated almost 1 billion impressions (valued at £10m), boosted awareness and helped to generate sales of £21m. See How To Integrate & Leverage A Great Image For Max Impact for the full story of this very creative news release.
In summary, PR, as a tactical tool, is highly credible, but uncontrollable yet very cost effective when you get it right.
PR = Low Cost, High Credibility and almost No Control.
If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy:
Follow me on Facebook, Linkedin & Twitter, or Sign Up to receive my next post by email (at the top right hand corner of this page).
Benady, A. (2015) The Energy To Change Our Minds – The Interview, with Andy Norman, PR Week, Sept.
Smith, PR & Zook, Z. (2016) Marketing Communications 6th ed offline & online integration, engagement and analytics, Kogan Page