PR Lessons Learned: Greatest Hits of 2012

As PR News readers know, we’re big on lessons learned. Many of these PR lessons result in tried and true tactics, like “measure everything” and “listen to your target audiences.” Because 2012 is drawing to a close, I’ve compiled my own “lessons learned” list for 2012, drawn from some very public PR dust-ups. Here are my favorite five:

Lesson 1: Learn From Others’ Mistakes. Starbucks U.K. should have dialed “M” for McDonald’s before launching a hashtag campaign this week to engage with customers. Asking people to #spreadthecheer for the holidays, the public responded with tweets criticizing Starbucks over a tax controversy and labor practices. Posts like “Hey #Starbucks, PAY YOUR F_______ Tax #spreadthecheer” appeared on a big screen at a Starbucks-sponsored ice rink in London. McDonald’s suffered a similar fate in January with its #McDStories campaign.

Lesson 2: Trust Your Fan Base. Food Network’s Guy Fieri went on the offensive after his new Times Square restaurant is skewered by The New York Times. “”I think we all know what’s going on here, I mean [Times food critic Pete Wells] came in with a different agenda,” said Fieri on the “Today” show. Fieri could afford to rip the Times, because he has nearly 800,000 Twitter followers and his “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” is one of the Food Network’s most popular shows.

Lesson 3: A Little “Cheeky” Humor Goes a Long Way. After revealing photos of Prince Harry in Las Vegas appeared online, media pundits said Harry may never recover his royal reputation. Instead of buttoning up about the crisis, Harry used a bit of humor to diffuse the controversy. His first public appearance after the crisis broke saw him meeting with a 6-year-old boy, a survivor of acute leukemia. In an interview with the boy on the day before the meeting, the boy told reporters he was going to say, “I’m glad you’ve got your clothes on, Prince Harry.” Harry was briefed on those remarks and said to the boy, “I heard you were on ITV earlier and you said something cheeky—but let’s not talk about that here.”

Lesson 4: Any Publicity is Good Publicity. When it comes to The Donald, the old adage still rings true. When Donald Trump told his 1.7 million followers on Oct. 22 that he had big news to announce about President Obama on Oct. 24 at noon, the media and public took notice. While his announcement turned out to be a dud, love him or hate him, Trump’s gravitas got him what he wanted: to be back in the national spotlight.

Lesson 5: Never Make the Coverup as Bad as the Crime. After San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 days for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, word got out the he had planned to launch a campaign to avoid suspension by creating a fake Web site, highlighting a product that doesn’t exist in hopes of using that as a “reason” for his positive test. Cabrera was able to overcome the positive test, signing a $16 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays for 2013. He may never overcome that lame coverup.

Do you have some PR lessons learned in 2012 that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

  • Lisa Larranaga

    Great compilation, Scott! It’s good to have these reminders because in most cases, it can happen to anyone. What do they say, we all make mistakes, it’s how you handle them that matters? :)

    Have a great holiday!
    Cision NA

  • Dan Gould

    I might not suggest #4 to folks. For a tiny start-up, yes, any ink may be welcomed, but for those who are not desperate for coverage, a more thoughtful approach is needed. The other four are right on.

  • Xavier

    I was wondering if you ever considered changing the layout of your site?

    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say.

    But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.

    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?