What the ’90s taught us about PR

From the Olsen twins to Tamagotchis, the pop culture of the millennium’s final decade left a lasting impression, offering a few lessons along the way.

Although I was born in the 1980s, I consider myself to be a full-blown ’90s child.

The TV show “Wishbone” was where I first developed a love of history. If someone uses the word “bop,” my mind immediately goes to my first Bop It game and I want to yell back “Twist it—Pull it—Flick it!”

When parents complain about their kids having too many stuffed animals, I cringe and think about the multiple boxes of Beanie Babies living in my attic that I continue to hope will be worth something one day. But the ’90s weren’t just about all the must-have toys and wonderful TV shows; they were also a time when future PR professionals learned a thing or two about how to bring clients success. Below are a few examples of PR tips we learned from 1990s culture and icons.

1. Giving a face to your brand is crucial. We fell in love with the Olsen twins on “Full House,” but in reality that was only the beginning of their success. They truly owned their brand and developed movies and products that fit their target audience. In today’s world, where most interactions take place online and not in person, personalizing and humanizing your brand is essential to success.

2. If you are facing a communications crisis, be transparent. I can’t even begin to list all the wonderful children’s TV shows that aired in the ’90s, but there is one show we will never forget for the delightful scandal it brought with it. On July 26, 1991, Pee-wee’s Playhouse host Paul Reubens was arrested for indecent exposure. What did Reubens do to rebuild his reputation? Almost absolutely nothing for the next decade. Reubens’ situation was a no-brainer for the courts. He did what he did and paid a fine. What can we learn from this? If you want to save your career or company and not sit on your butt for 10 years, apologize, be transparent, and regain the trust of your consumers/fans. Hiding is never the best way to go.

3. Never discount public opinion. For us ’90s babies, we hear “O.J.” and our mind does not immediately go to a citrus beverage. Instead we think about the O.J. Simpson trial, which reinforced the idea that celebrities can get away with anything. The takeaway here for PR pros is that your client’s public image is a huge priority, which is why getting them media coverage before a crisis occurs is important. The more friends you build in the news media world, (usually) the less likely it is that they will tear you to shreds at a later date. Another lesson here is that no matter what you do, what you’ve done, or whom you know, a great story trumps everything.

4. Digital is the future. I’m sure many parents cringed when their children suddenly began tending to numerous Tamagotchis and appearing late to dinner because they had to check in on their handheld pets. But the creators of these little creatures, Akihiro Yokoi of WiZ and Aki Maita of Bandai, were on to something when they made those highly addictive toys. According to survey data released by Forbes.com, “Studies show that Gen Y and Millennial generation—which will comprise more than 50% of the workforce by 2020—would prefer to use instant messaging or other social media than stop by an office and talk with someone.” So for those of you who talked lovingly to your virtual pet, you weren’t crazy—just ahead of the curve.

So next time you are reminiscing about which Power Rangers character was your favorite, think about it in a public relations context. Who doesn’t remember all the diversity conflicts around those action heroes?

Kate Connors is a senior account manager and social media strategist at Media & Communications Strategies. A version of this article first appeared on PR Breakfast Club.

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Topics: PR


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