There are successful public relations campaigns and there are failed public relations campaigns.
The one that comes first to my mind when someone asks me for an example of a first-class PR effort is the Tylenol poisoning scare, when parent company Johnson and Johnson masterfully met the disaster head-on and emerged with an even greater market share than it had before - which was substantial.The makers of Sudafed capsules, currently fighting bad publicity stemming from a tampering case of their own, are attempting to follow Tylenol's lead, and rightly so.
Unfortunately, there seem to be more PR fiascoes than fetes: Audi's stonewalling of the (completely unwarranted) "sudden acceleration" charges; Exxon's botchup of the Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill; Union Carbide's failed attempts to avoid culpability in the Bhopal gas deaths disaster . . . the list is long.
Robert L. Dilenschneider's favorite story of public relations gone wrong is the Perrier sparkling water affair in which the French bottler of trendy "designer water" lost much of its prestige - and market share - to Evian and others after it was found to be contaminated with benzene.
"Perrier should never have lost its market share, but they have and they're never going to get it back," said Dilenschneider, president and chief executive officer of Hill & Knowlton Inc., the New York-based public relations firm said to be the world's largest.
Not surprisingly, Dilen-schneider views one of his own firm's PR campaigns as a classic example of how to do it right. Hill and Knowlton represented Kuwait during the war in the Persian Gulf, helping build support for Desert Shield and Desert Storm for President Bush and the NATO alliance.
"We were very effective in the process," said Dilenschneider. "It was a major public relations effort related to a major event . . . nothing bigger."
Dilenschneider was in Utah to receive the "Communications Leader Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public Relations" from Brigham Young University's department of communications.
The award cites Dilenschneider, 47, "for his professional competence and meteoric rise in the communications industry, for his dedication to community and public service and for his commitment to integrity and ethics in personal and professional conduct."
The award also praises his reputation for "quick, incisive analysis, pointed solutions and honest response (that) puts him on call at all hours to solve the communications problems of governments, major corporations and prominent public figures."
Indeed, Dilenschneider has directed a number of major PR efforts including the Chilean grape tampering crisis, the U.S. Steel/
Marathon Oil merger, the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel disaster when a suspended walkway collapsed, the Three-Mile Island nuclear power disaster and others. He is also well-known as the man who counseled six of Fortune magazine's "10 Toughest Bosses."
Dilenschneider is philosophical about all this. "There will always be another crisis," he said in an interview following his appearance at BYU. "You get to a phase in a crisis where boredom sets in. People turn away. Lawyers use this to benefit."
For example, Dilenschneider points out that the Persian Gulf oil spill was 10 times worse than Exxon Valdez but it quickly lost its newsworthiness as the war moved to its conclusion.
Speaking of the war and its aftermath, Dilenschneider said the United States has a short but invaluable window of opportunity in the aftermath of the war to benefit enormously from the success of the allies.
"Bush can lay the foundations now for what will happen the rest of the decade. And American business stands to benefit. The world now knows that America is back on the block and we're a country to reckon with."