'Tis the season for PR

      22 Comments on 'Tis the season for PR

Jeff Morosoff, Assistant Professor/Public Relations, Hofstra University

Editors and producers love heartwarming stories this time of year. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, the news is filled with lovely stories about lovely organizations doing lovely things for people in need. The holiday season really does inspire people of means to help others less fortunate, and most of us like to share in the giving, even as observers. Good PR people know how to seize upon this media season to get coverage of their community relations efforts by pitching these good deeds–and sometimes even staging them.

When I talked in class about how businesses support their communities by donating money and time to local charities, underwriting programs, helping the needy and then, yes, publicizing their do-good activities, I heard a student exclaim, “So then it’s all B.S.!” His thinking was that organizations were helping so they could get positive publicity and wouldn’t do so if those media opportunities didn’t exist.

So if you believe that perspective, pay special attention to the news this month. Watch with skepticism for events staged by public and private institutions which, for example, are helping people eat or bringing music to the disabled or reuniting families with sick loved ones. Try to hold back your tears when you see schoolchildren raising money to fight diseases in other parts of the world or postal workers using letters to Santa to reach out to the less fortunate or the military collecting thousands of toys for kids who wouldn’t get any otherwise. Turn off the TV when you see a employees of a huge corporation collecting clothing for the poor, or a politician helping to repair a home, or athletes dressed as Santa to visit a children’s hospital. Because it’s all just B.S. staged by clever PR people. Isn’t it?

Your thoughts?

22 thoughts on “'Tis the season for PR

  1. prshopgirl2232

    That really raises a good question, does all this corporate “charity” have a hidden agenda? Maybe, maybe not. Would this charity even exist in the first place if it wasn’t for the goals of obtaining a positive public image? But break it down, you can ask yourself, is anyone being disadvantaged by this possibly fake charity? I see it as a win- win, a symbiotic relationship. Both the less fortunate and large corporations benefit from these charities. The needy get lots of cool stuff and corporations put a warm fuzzy feeling in their consumers hearts. I think that during the holiday season, or at least I would like to believe that during the holiday season all citizens are looking for ways to be grateful and thankful. Or at least they want to portray an amiable image. You can look at it 1 of 2 ways, half empty or half full. I choose half full. As a soon to be working PR professional and dedicated member of society I’d like to think that we participate in charities to accomplish greater good, but even if we do it to provide a false image of social responsibility…does that really matter? In a business climate that constantly titters on the edges of ethical practices, how offensive can a fuzzy charity campaign be if the less fortunate are still reaping the benefits?

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  2. Meredith Golden

    Sure, in a lot of cases, charity drives or donations or anything similar are created to make a company or person look good to others. But in the end, it’s helping people in need. I watch Good Morning America every day when I wake up, and there’s always something on about a person or a company making a difference to their community. And so what? I would much rather turn on the TV and see how Toys R Us is donating toys to kids in need than see what new fiasco Lindsay Lohan has gotten herself into.

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  3. Jamie Hagan

    I think it is a mix of both. I will agree that i tend to notice that in times of a crisis, One of the first steps to reformation of image usually comes in the form of a “Charitable Act” that highlights the individual or company and a humanitarian and worthy of the publics forgiveness. In My case studies class we have been listening to presentation on various scandalous and my classmates PR plan to deal with the problem and almost all of them included a donation or working with a charitable organization that somehow relates to the scandal.

    Similarly i am sure there are plenty of individuals and organizations that complete these good deeds on the premise of making them seem better especially around christmas where giving back is a constant stigma.

    However I do believe there are plenty of individuals and companies who participate in giving for the right reasons and not because they think they have to to have a favorable public image.

    It is the publics job to critically analyze these do gooders and decide if their intentions are in the right place

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  4. blgilmartin

    This reminds me of one of my posts about Starbucks. basically every action could be seen as PR all that really matters is that organizations are honest, and that there work is good the rest is irrelevant.

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  5. Kaitlin Simensky

    Of course in certain situations, such as crisis management, PR professionals may have ulterior motives. However, it’s sad to think that everything a PR practitioner does is purely to benefit the company. One would hope that sometimes companies do good things for others without the need to get something out of it. At the same time, however, I feel it would be foolish of any organization to not make use this time of year of the great opportunities for positive publicity.

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  6. Clarissa Kouri

    I think that it is true that when the holidays come around, organizations do become more generous and reach out. I don’t think companies do this just because it’s the holidays and they want to have positive publicity, even though some companies and individuals do. I believe that the nature of the holidays forces all of us to stop and think for a moment. Since it is a holiday of giving we are emotionally pressured to give by these events. Some of us will maximize what we get out of it, particularly if we are a celebrity or company looking for good PR; however, I think many of us are just giving, because it is a time to stop, reflect and give.

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  7. Melissa

    This is a statement I have heard before, and I have to say I have been guilty of this way of thinking as well. But when it comes down to it charity is great no matter what and can teach people things. Whether one company or one million companies do use charity as a way to make them look better or not, at some point I believe they will feel good about what they are doing to benefit someone else who needs help rather than just getting enjoyment out of their companies reputation looking positive.

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  8. Nick Schweers

    My thought on the whole controversy is at the end of the day, the company is still doing a good deed, right? Maybe they are just doing it for press, who really knows? But if the food shelter is getting food, people are going to be fed. Whether the company gets a placement in the newspaper or not, they still donated the food, right? If they do get the placement, it was for a good cause. I know it seems UNBELIEVABLE that some people genuinely want to do good without a secret agenda, but they’ve got to be out there somewhere in the corporate world.

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  9. Jenna Weiller

    Professor, it is interesting that you bring this up. I think you are right, in many cases these good deeds are done just for positive publicity. I think, however, that it would be stupid for an organization not to take advantage of this time of year for positive publicicty. If an organization has a negative image, there are so many opportunities during the holidays to turn that image around. I don’t think that this is being very deceitful because I’m sure that the organizations enjoy helping other people. The fact that it boosts their image make it a win win situation. You are able to publicize your organization – which is your job, but help people that are less fortunate than yourself at the same time. In this way, I don’t really think it’s complete B.S. I don’t think there are too many individuals out there who would dislike helping others, so it’s not like they are doing something they don’t want to do just for the publicity. The fact that there is an incentive does help however.

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  10. Mike Remsen

    All holidays’ have now become HUGE opportunities for PR personal to exercise there creativity. I would love to believe that all of these good deeds and charitable organizations we hear so much of during these times are all doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. But that wouldn’t be the whole truth in my opinion. What is true though, is that it is not all B.S. These stories and events we see our done to help those who are less fortunate and in dire need of support. The positive publicity that these companies receive on behalf of their connection to the charities is just pure recognition for their efforts, that it all. It’s a win-win.

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  11. Aqlesia

    It’s funny that you bring this up. I always say that becoming a PR major has made me think that no good a company does is real, or at least doesn’t have ulterior motives. I’m always skeptical of motives of companies claiming to promote good through humanitarian work and publicizing do-good work. For some businesses, I even feel like these programs exist to distract the public from ethical questions (tobacco, alcohol and oil companies). In doing this “charity work” during the holidays especially, reputation and public perception is sure to increase alongside company profit. I do think these organizations are hoping to get positive publicity, if they weren’t, why wouldn’t they just do these good deeds without spending dollars and time on informing the public that they did it? I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing though. If your company is doing good and also increasing its own profit and reputation, why not continue? It’s like killing two birds with one stone.

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  12. Vanessa

    Wow Prof. Morosoff, I almost just cried reading this post. As a person looking to have a career in PR it saddens me to see how some believe that everything a PR practitioner does is just to benefit the company they work for.

    In my case, I still like to believe in the good in people. Why can’t we just think that these things are done truly to help others in need and in the process it just helps obtain good publicity. Let’s believe that the sole purpose is not just to get good publicity. I mean I know I wouldn’t do it just for publicity. If my profession allows me to help and make a difference in the world and I do it, I wouldn’t want people saying that all that is done as an act of self interest.

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  13. Lauren Means

    I think that businesses are very clever to use the sense of holiday spirit to draw in consumers. It’s an excellent way to draw attention and also help people less fortunate. I agree with the one student who said that the corporations probably would not be so selfless if it weren’t expected of them, or if it didn’t benefit them.

    However, this doesn’t mean that it’s all a trick. Many businesses put together campaigns to help the less fortunate all throughout the year, not just the holiday season. And it’s not as if the campaigns made solely for the holiday season are tricks; they really do help people in need. So why complain? As long as people are getting fed, clothed, and cared for, I’m all right with it.

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  14. OkAnna

    Perhaps it is all B.S., or perhaps it is the spirit and meaning behind the season. The nostalgia that exists around the holiday season of childhood memories of big family feasts and the significance of gift giving associated with Christmas are huge motivating factors for charitable acts that afford those feasts and gifts to the less fortunate. Although I believe a lot of the charity is done for PR, I would like to think that somewhere deep inside this B.S. is some legitimate concern for the well-being of others.

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  15. samwilbur

    An important part of surviving as an organization, business, politician is to have strong values and strong community involvement. PR people are able to highlight this; of course some of PR can be B.S.; all media features some aspects that may be B.S. But, PR people can often make the public aware of what an organization is doing, or help re-shape an image. Regardless, it’s part of the job but as we all know–if one is going to be good (really good) at PR, he or she should genuinely believe in its cause or fully understand what he or she is working on.

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  16. Bobby Liga

    I really wonder what student said that it was “B.S’!!!!! But it isn’t all B.S!!! Throughout the holiday season, various corporations do great things for people. Like you said, re-uniting loved ones, and giving clothes to the poor. This is great for a companies public image. The holiday season is a essential time for companies to gain public interest, and further increase their reputation in the world. There are so many different methods of promoting a company in an extremely positive way in the holiday seasons. Companies can host gift wrapping events, where all proceeds go to children in Africa, hold workshops where children can write their letter to Santa etc….If a company has a negative image, this holiday season is a time for that company to make up for it. There are countless amounts of charity events that a particular company can hold in order to further better their reputation.

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  17. Brad O'Hearn

    “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synogogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4

    Save the release for the hereafter.

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  18. E

    Early in my career, I felt it was B.S. so I moved into nonprofit PR work. What I’ve actually discovered is that the business of PR is GOOD for society. (besides an evolving,rewarding career choice). A company that performs goodwill acts and receives enhanced brand equity for those acts, is still made up of people who feel really good to be “doing their part” to help others. Good PR tells a story, enhances business, and causes social action. And that is NOT B.S.

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  19. jmorosoff Post author

    Of course, as Phil noted, my perspective was tongue in cheek… I vehementaly argued with the student that this was NOT all B.S. I completely agree with Melissa and Phil that institutions do these good deeds for compassionate reasons. The publicity that follows is an ancillary gain. It’s the PR professional’s role to publicize good works with hopes that others will follow!

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  20. Melissa Connolly

    If you look at it that way, you could question the motives of individuals, not-for-profits, schoolchildren, saints, sinners – anyone doing anything good…what’s the argument?…that there is no truly unselfish motive when doing good.

    But so what? If having a good reputation or wanting to feel good about yourself or bending to societal pressure or just bringing a group of people together on a project encourages you to raise some money, get some toys and help some people, OK. Whatever gets you to do it.

    Its proven that consumer and employees feel better about purchasing from and working for organizations who engage in community service, and that those companies are more likely to recover from crisis, and have the public trust. Those reasons alone are good enough for me. If it increases loyalty, engages consumers, raises the general consciousness about an issue, while making people feel good about an organization, that’s all to the better.

    I’m proud to be a part of a profession that reminds our bosses that it is not only good to do good, but smart as well.

    Community relations is often the first thing to go when a company is in trouble, because people often forget that it DOES contribute to the bottom line. I don’t think you need to be cynical about it at all. Would we want no one to have a toy drive because it might be perceived cynically and be used for a photo op? I’d rather make sure the kids have toys and use the photo op to pressure others to do the same.

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  21. Phil Hecken

    Oh, Professor Morosoff, ye of little faith! (Tongue planted firmly in cheek). I totally agree that this time of year many businesses and organizations seek the “Look at us and all the good we do” positive PR by staging some form of public relations maneuver(s) showing how magnanimous they are and how they give back to the community.

    For example, you might find my recent release to be chock full of such. But in this case, I know I personally dropped off four collection boxes to some of the stores listed, and will periodically picking up all that is collected and then taking it to the I.N.N. (won’t you consider making a small donation if you happen to be near one of these stores?)… And if we didn’t do this year after year (although we did expand our outreach this year), it certainly might smack of a pure political PR move.

    But I can guarantee, just like Professor Morosoff points out, there are plenty of politicians, organizations and corporations who DO do something along these lines (in my case, soliciting and collecting non-perishable items for a food bank) just to produce a positive image. And it’s been done for years, although certainly much more in recent times. You should always view such things with skepticism, and if you do feel the event in question is a pure positive PR grab, look into it. It’s not all B.S. staged by clever PR people, but is most definitely a lot of it out there.

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