Ignoring data in your PR campaign? Bad idea; here’s why

These four case studies will illustrate why doing your homework and performing metrics only the first steps. You then must apply your discoveries to your near- and long-term approaches.

The road to organizational destruction is paved with bad PR strategies.

Here are four cautionary tales about what happens when you ignore your data:

1. You lose lots of money and support.

When Planned Parenthood discovered that one of its partners, the Susan G. Komen foundation, was going to cut off its funding, Planned Parenthood officials immediately began poring over volumes of data about their donors and supporters to plan a response.
Meanwhile, the folks at the Komen foundation were worrying about what the major organizations that sponsor the foundation might be thinking about abortion rights. Komen just assumed that its long track record of supporting women’s health would be enough to carry it through any vocal opposition from Planned Parenthood supporters. It wasn’t.

Komen’s strategy was to stay quiet and hope the whole thing blew over. When it didn’t, it made mistake after mistake. As the debate erupted and continue to rage most furiously on Twitter, Komen responded with a YouTube video.

(Note to Komen: Always respond on the same platform where a crisis erupts, and next time make sure your CEO gets good video training on how to look human and not robotic before you chose You Tube to mount a strategic defense.)

Its answer to every protest was, “This was not political,” yet the majority of the Twitterverse insisted that it was. In the end, the organization suffered an almost mortal blow. For more background and details, read my coverage at the time.

2. Your stock price drops a lot.

Intel’s choice to ignore PR data and call a bug in one of its chips a “design flaw” almost destroyed the company. Intel downplayed complaints about chip problems as “only affecting a handful of geeks.”

However, just before the problems emerged Intel had embarked on a multi-million-dollar international branding campaign called “Intel Inside,” with the goal of making Intel a household name.

The campaign succeeded, but the timing was terrible, given that the problem with bad chips started just as the campaign was getting traction. Because it had done such a good job of making their brand a household word, once word of the chip problem surfaced in the news media, a firestorm of consumer criticism ensued.

My company, The Delahaye Group, was measuring Intel’s PR at the time and could observe the steady increase in negative coverage over the weeks and months that it used this strategy. When “60 Minutes” covered it in a major investigation, Intel finally had to admit the problem and fix it.

CEO Andy Grove later admitted in his book “Only the Paranoid Survive” that the way his company handled the problem was one of the worst strategic decisions he ever made. The only good thing that came out of it was that Intel’s PR team earned boatloads of credibility for being the lone company voice against the “keep quiet and it will all blow away” strategy.

3. You lose credibility—and maybe the GOP nomination.

Chris Christie was walking right in Intel’s footsteps when he first ignored, then denied, and ultimately blamed subordinates for Bridgegate, the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal. News outlets weren’t ignoring it, though, and the public wasn’t distracted.

Negative coverage of the ensuing debacle increased to the point that today, even though Christie was exonerated, whenever the potential GOP nominee for president is discussed, Bridgegate comes to mind.

4. You lose an Olympic bid.

There were so many strategic communications flaws in the failed Boston 2024 Olympic bid, we don’t have time to analyze all of them.

Here are the top five:

  • Not doing research before you make a huge strategic announcement. Boston 2014 should have done its research up front to judge the level of public support.
  • Not using data to identify key influencers. Not only were many key influencers taken by surprise by the initial announcement, apparently Boston 2014 hadn’t even approached many of the venues they were proposing to use before the bid was announced.
  • Boston 2014 thought it could rely on PR to change public opinion, without changing their actions. Critics complained that none of their fundamental objections were addressed when a revised version of the plan (Bid 2.0) was announced.
  • Boston 2014 ignored and weren’t transparent about a known problem that eventually prompted a city council member to threaten to subpoena them.
  • It also didn’t consider the Boston citizenry. What ever made members of the group think that residents of the site of the Boston Tea Party would be OK with letting a foreign entity (the IOC) impose a potential $300 million tax on them?

A version of this article first appeared on The Measurement Advisor.

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