Sample Research Paper: Public Relations and Sample Cases of Successful Crisis Management

Business WritingPublic Relations and Branding
Feb 17, 2022

What is public relations?

The definition of public relations, more commonly known as PR, has evolved. The earliest connotations to this practice revolved around publicity, but its modern associations became focused on maintaining a positive organizational image and relationships with its publics. It is safe to say then that Public Relations is as significant as any aspect of communication for all organizations, be it business or non-profit. The Public Relations Society of America, Inc. (PRSA) gave a distinct definition of Public Relations:

“Public Relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Following this definition, public relations can then be considered as the “management of credibility” because no positive relationship or influence can blossom from a problematic image (Stacks, 2016). Public relations is often confused with marketing and advertising, therefore, it is important to note that while advertising and marketing note people as clients or customers, public relations refer to people as “key stakeholders” or “publics”. The main difference is the nature of the relationship – whereas, in advertising or marketing, people consume a service or a product. While in public relations, people “believe and trust” the organization. In light of this relationship structure, public relations serves as an umbrella practice for the two (Theaker, 2021).

Historical Evidence of Public Relations

Public relations has a lot of meanings attached to it, hence, it is better to discuss how this practice works with actual cases where public relations is involved more than anything else. Before proceeding, it is also important to note that a public relations campaign or crisis management plan is different from a business plan.

The ‘There is a syringe in my Pepsi can!’ Hoax

The ‘there is a syringe in my Pepsi can!’ case is a crisis that every PR person knows. This is actually a staple case study for students studying communications. The overview of the case is someone found a syringe in an unopened can of Diet Pepsi in Washington in 1993. Two days later, the same claim was reported in the same area. Within a week, 50 incidents were reported from 24 different states but none involved any injury. PepsiCo’s initial action was to let Alpaca Corporation, its local bottler, address the situation. It was concluded that the cans were not tampered with in the filling line, however, the story kept growing. PepsiCo then decided to handle the crisis on a national level. This was a tricky case because not only did it compromise the integrity of the entire business, this case was a health concern. The first alleged contaminated Pepsi can was reported on June 9, 1993 – three days later the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues a five-state consumer warning stating that people need to pour their drinks on glasses first before drinking.

Despite the gravity of this crisis, PepsiCo managed to address the issue in a week, parallel to the claims surfacing from various states. The organization worked closely with the FDA and released videos showing the canning process of the product to assure the public that Pepsi is safe to consume and that all shreds of evidence are pointing to the direction where the “I found a syringe inside my Pepsi can” is a hoax. PepsiCo did not close its doors to questioning and worked with the authorities. The constant involvement of the FDA in the case led huge supermarkets to keep the product on their shelves, showing the confidence of other businesses in PepsiCo. Shortly, FDA announced the first arrest for filing a false report with a fine of $250,000 plus five years in prison. Because of this, the claims started to die down and the publicity ran its course, turning the table from PepsiCo being a questionable soft drink manufacturer to a prominent identity in the beverages industry. This case gave PepsiCo a Silver Anvil Award.

What is the difference between Public Relations and Marketing or Advertising plan?

The ‘Tylenol Poison Spree' Case 

Tylenol encountered a dangerous situation when three people died from Tylenol laced with cyanide back in September 1982 (Latson, 2014). Like PepsiCo’s case, it happened quickly because in less than a week, seven people died. However, unlike PepsiCo’s crisis, this one is not a hoax. The FDA believed that someone tampered with Extra Strength Tylenol by injecting cyanide on the red half of the pill, resealed the bottle, then placed it back to shelves up for sale. On the other hand, the Illinois attorney general believes that this is a good old disgruntled employee versus the company case. But, whichever the case, it is important to note that there was no conclusion – yes, this case was never solved – and Tylenol ended up in an awful situation. With no perpetrator to blame, all eyes are on Tylenol and Johnson and Johnson (Tylenol’s parent corporation). They decided to quickly recall all of their products, released a warning themselves telling people to not take Tylenol and put up hotlines for consumers – a move that cost them millions of dollars.

From a business perspective, this is a textbook loss. No doubt. However, this action flipped Tylenol’s image from being an image of a killing spree to being a victim too. While taking the image of being a prey, it was bold to allow losing revenue giving them the strongest trust its publics could ever give. The Tylenol Poison Spree made Johnson and Johnson a company that places customers’ safety above any kind of profit. The company quickly recovered its losses due to the public trust it gained. Despite the cases, this crisis was not tagged under poison control, it actually became a model for teaching good PR to this day.

Importance to Modern Businesses

Truth be told, modern media is ruthless, especially the internet. What people can’t remember; Google remembers. This means every mistake, even the littlest error, can easily become a part of history without it having erased and every issue a prominent person or organization encounters, those filed stories will resurface. Word of mouth is now as quick as a click. This is the very reason why all modern businesses and organizations must maintain brand credibility and that can only be acquired using public relations, not marketing or advertising. Take, for instance, a company that sells an au naturel and cruelty-free beauty product can price one item that is $50 higher than the same item that is just as good from another company. Yet, consumers still choose to buy the former than the latter. Why? Because they don’t harm animals. Because they use natural ingredients. ­Because of its “good” image. This is the power of brand credibility. And with the advent of high speed and internet and heavy-duty gadgets, it has become extremely difficult to hide a secret.

Examples of Contemporary Public Relations Practices

Now, public relations may be all about maintaining positive relationships and influences, but that doesn’t mean that public relations is not stressful. On the contrary, this discipline might be one of the most stressful industries in the world considering its nature.

The Either Empowering or Offensive ‘Jane Walker’

Diageo released a special edition of their famous drink Johnnie Walker.  It is the same Black Label Scotch, but its famous logo was replaced with a woman with a tagline saying “keep walking America”. This edition was released during International Women’s Day and Women History Month, yet it divided the women. At first glance, it is clear with its objective – that it is the 21 st century, and women can now walk and lead. However, the time when it was released was said to be a bit disturbing to others. This company was accused of pandering or indulging itself in a possible sales improvement because of the occasion. The buzz was all good for the company, both positive and negative, until a single interview with Johnnie Walker vice president Stephanie Jacoby broke the thin glass (Nurin, 2018). The ‘Jane Walker’ edition ended up in a rough situation because of a risky statement:

“Scotch as a category is seen as particularly intimidating by women. It’s a really exciting opportunity to invite women into the brand,” Jacoby said.

This statement created an uproar merely because it may or may not have sounded insulting. Still, the company was able to save the edition because before all the arguments, Diageo pledged to donate $250,000 to two women’s causes attached to this edition ($1 for every bottle produced). Additionally, the media did its research because of all this commotion and found out that women make up almost half of its 12 blenders, and that 50% of Diageo’s board are women. Additionally, Diageo’s global executive team is 40% women. Bottom line is, it may have sparked a debate but it did become famous.

Stabilo Boss: Highlight the Remarkable

Stabilo Boss’s idea is simple. Its product is a highlighter and it used that function in its campaign where they took various black and white photos and highlighted the remarkable women in the background. The image that captured everybody’s hearts arguably the most is an old photo of NASA engineers and scientists, and Stabilo Boss highlighted a small figure of a woman, with a short description saying:

“Katharine Johnson. The Nasa mathematician responsible for the calculations resulting in Apollo 11’s safe return to earth.”

Among the other women that Stabilo highlighted were Edith Wilson, the first lady of United States from 1915 to 1921 – who assumed former president Wilson’s duties and responsibilities when the latter suffered from stroke; and Lise Meitner, entitled to half the discovery of nuclear fission (D&AD, 2019). The campaign was said to be a stroke of genius because its simplicity brought out elegance, creativity, and a strong sense of respect to these women.

Read a sample Public Relations campaign plan here.

In conclusion, we can say that public relations is a band-aid to a scratch - it helps the wound heal while protecting it from harmful foreign substances. The biggest companies today have a separate department exclusive for public relations practitioners, and these practitioners' job is arguably more challenging than marketing and advertising. They need to come up with a PR strategic plan as quickly as possible if a problem arises and that takes more than just a few minds to address. If drafting a PR plan is difficult even for the experts, what more to students? No one can learn how to write a PR plan overnight which is why this is usually an entire course in many universities. The good news, CustomEssayMeister can help you with your PR assignment!


References

About Public Relations . Public Relations Society of America, Inc. (PRSA).  Retrieved 10 February 2022 from https://www.prsa.org/about/all-about-pr

D&AD. (2019). Highlight the remarkable.  D&AD Poster Advertising Campaigns. Retrieved 16 February 2022 from https://www.dandad.org/awards/professional/2019/press-outdoor/230379/highlight-the-remarkable/

Latson, J. (29 September 2014). How poisoned Tylenol became a crisis management teaching model. Time. Retrieved 10 February 2022 from https://time.com/3423136/tylenol-deaths-1982/

Nurin, T. (28 February 2018). Johnnie Walker’s Jane edition fights for women’s equality, not against it. Forbes.  Retrieved 16 February 2022 from https://www.forbes.com/sites/taranurin/2018/02/28/johnnie-walkers-jane-walker-edition-fights-for-womens-equality-not-against-it/?sh=4dfb0d4e353c

Stacks, D.W. (2016). Primer of Public Relations Research. The Guilford Press.

Theaker, A. (Ed.). (2021). The Public Relations Handbook. Routledge. DOI: 103.5.132.213

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