Unintentional PR – Bane or Boon?

I have to admit, I’ve never heard of the game Words With Friends. That is until Tuesday. Actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off of an American Airlines flight earlier this week after a flight attendant asked him to turn off his cell phone which he was using to play the game as the plane was waiting to taxi for takeoff. The actor refused and subsequently he was booted from the flight but not before proceeding to go on a tirade, slamming a bathroom door and later posting derogatory tweets about American Airlines on Twitter using a vindictive hashtag (#nowonderamericanairisbankrupt) to express his “outrage” at what us normal citizens would call “proper protocol” on an airline.

Unknowingly with his outburst, Baldwin conjured up brand recognition and buzz for Zynga, the creator of the game. How fortuitous for Zynga. They just so happen to be on the road to an initial public offering (IPO) and are desperately trying to win favor with portfolio managers who don’t seem to relate to their games. With the wave of his phone and the flash of a tweet, a Hollywood celebrity breathed life into a company that is on the forefront of going public and can use all the brand name recognition they can get. #winning

In the often unpredictable world of PR, there are occasions where companies can unintentionally receive positive or negative PR through no accord of their own. Whether it’s someone caught using their product illegally, or a controversial celebrity wearing a brand name on their chest “without the company’s knowledge,” unintentional PR can pop up at the most unexpected moments so a deft PR pro must always be prepared to identify and handle these cases quickly to either leverage the benefits or launch into damage control mode to avoid potential reverberations.

So what can we do as PR pros to prepare ourselves for these occasions so that we are primed to act and capitalize on the opportunity or put a bandage on the wound? Here are a few tips:

  • Social Media Monitoring – If you are like me, you are constantly keeping your eyes peeled and ears perked for mentions of your company/brand through social media monitoring tools. Google alerts or platforms like Vocus, Radian 6, Trackur, Social Mention and Hootsuite are a few free and paid tools that you can use to keep abreast of mentions and conversations about your brand. There are many others. Use them.
  • Communication  – Although it’s impossible to accurately predict when an unintentional PR event will pop up, diligently and consistently communicating with clients, co-workers peers and media about the brand(s) you represent keeps you on your toes and prepared for the unexpected. Trust me, if you do experience an unintentional PR episode, negative or positive, you want the media or a blogger contacting you first for a comment or explanation before they put finger to keyboard. Make yourself known.
  • Be Proactive – The mark of an effective PR pro is the ability to stave off negativity or conversely capitalize on the positive by proactively conducting campaigns that keep brand names top of mind and promote positive sentiment and perception. Being influential is of course not the same thing as intentionally trying to alter emotions with pomp or spin but it does allow you to steer the ship and react swiftly in times of crisis. As we all know, if you don’t steer that ship, someone else will.
  • Crisis Communication Plan – We all know that in the digital age a crisis can crumble a brand and fuel negativity in the blink of an eye. Often times, brands are able to avoid a crisis and minimize the damage simply by being prepared with a crisis communications plan. It helps to clarify and map out a plan of action that is crystal clear and everyone can follow. If you don’t have a crisis communication plan in place, get one.

Have you ever been the victim or benefactor of unintentional PR? Please share your stories and how you reacted plus any tips that you find to be effective to prepare for such an event.

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