Black Friday and “real” PR

REI’s awesome move to shutter stores for Black Friday reminded me many PR tips forget the real definition of PR (and also demonstrated an oft-overlooked publicity tactic, but more on that later).

I didn’t come up with this definition – I heard it from a PR professor back in the day, and I’m sure he heard it from someone else. The formula for effective PR is “Performance, then Recognition.”

The key element is your organization needs to DO something, then you can earn coverage/build buzz based on it. Not what you believe, hope, or “call for.” Now, because you’re subscribed here you know there are ways clever PR folk can sometimes pull rabbits out of hats and get attention even when there’s nothing new to pitch.

But consistent, significant, attitude-shifting communication is almost always predicated on ACTION.

Now, REI could have kicked off its “Opt Outside” campaign with merely a big ad buy or following basic PR tips. That’s what most companies do. Or if they wanted to ramp it up a notch they could have shut the stores for a Saturday in the summer or something. But to REALLY make a statement with credibility, they closed on the biggest shopping day of the year. That’s really putting their money behind their “movement.”

Now here’s the layer to this that’s less obvious – REI is also applying an approach that I’ve been teaching the last couple years called the “backlash trend strategy.” You see all those people falling over themselves to one-up each other around a trend – spending ever more money on Super Bowl ads, or unveiling ever more lavish hotel suites, or opening earlier and earlier on Black Friday? Then you do the opposite. Instead of competing against all the other people chasing the trend, you’re the single contrarian example riding the nascent backlash.

You know how coffee shops seem to have increasingly posh names for their product? A British retailer revised its coffee menu to translate “cappuccino” to “frothy coffee” and “latte” to “really, really milky coffee,” among other twists. They got worldwide publicity.

REI isn’t the first retailer to ride the anti-Black Friday backlash. Another company made a more overt attack on it last year, which resulted in the greatest retail-story headline of all time: This company sold $180,000 worth of actual B.S. on Black Friday.

Next steps for you? Build up credibility with your executives or clients so they don’t just ask you “how to say it” or even “what to say.” You don't want to simply execute basic PR tips, do you? You want to be part of the discussion at the beginning of the conversation around “what should we do?”

This article was originally published on November 24, 2015

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