When somebody is about to do something that could be met with incredulity or is considered hyperreal or bigger than life, it always creates a sense of skepticism. Taken together, they can constitute, well, PR (public relations).
Let’s dissect the two elements, and add a 3rd facet that's oft-left behind and how it relates to the BENCH ad.
Magic realism/hyper realism. Because PR is intended to strike home a point in the shortest span of time, everything done should be hyper real and out of this world – a giant billboard that interacts, most number of people kissing, breaking world records, a video gone viral, a dramatic art installation.
All elements have to assume the element of the hyper real, if not the odd, given that our mother, even in this digital age, is news. And news have to be newsworthy.
Sincerity, seriously. I was guilty of this error when I was starting – trying to artificially trigger a phenomenon. Subterfuge you could get away with 10 years ago, but no can do these days when the digital movement has demanded unprecedented levels of transparency from brands, people, and the public.
Remember Nestle Kill-Kat? When a food retailer is not only responsible for selling chocolates but also the entire value chain, it is interacting with its stakeholders sustainably.
Public good. Is your PR campaign intended to contribute to public good or is it meant to yet just sell a pair of shoes?
Good, strategic PR is such a powerful tool that I often compare it with a loaded gun or fire: it’s neither good nor bad. But you can either use it for good (to defend or cook) or offensively (arson). Ensure that you use it for good.
The primacy of public good. For one thing, they endeavored to shed light on an important topic – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights – in such a concerted and powerful way.
And while the stunt of disingenuousness may have threatened to dilute the effort, let’s keep focus on the big public good that the billboard aimed to do.
A history of doing good
BENCH’s leader, Ben Chan, is a force of PR unto himself – he breathes it, lives it consistently. He is not the creation of any strategist or publicist. He is a movement unto himself. His consistent efforts at positively engaging his multiple stakeholders, especially the LGBT and the media, will ensure BENCH of sufficient insulation in this “forgivable” faux pas.
Public image is your responsibility and it's a discipline. Rigorous and continuous. And not done in bursts of 3 months or so. (Yes, I am taking potshots at the weakness of advertising-led PR campaigns – it just doesn’t have the longevity to create a movement.)
In the end, a good PR campaign should follow some of these filters:
I’m also delighted to note that there was an immediate disclosure from BENCH, and perhaps a forthcoming apology? Brief and without caveats. Beyond the misstep, I think BENCH succeeded in bringing attention to inclusion in all its forms.
And for that, all’s forgiven and forgotten.
Just please don't do it again. – Rappler.com
Declaration: I'm not commercially nor professionally involved in BENCH or any of its agents or brands. My thoughts represent my own and not that of the organization I work for.
Statement of fallibility: This author is a communications practitioner but only of 15 years. There are so many more PR and communications practitioners far more senior than me.