MARKETING BLOG Issue 02

Three examples of brilliant PR campaigns – Canadian Tire, GM and Dawn

Everyone likes free stuff. So it should come as no surprise that clients want free publicity, which typically starts with a demand to put out a press release and then figure out what should be announced. This is all backwards. You need to first identify something newsworthy. Then you put out your release.

Paul Henderson winning goal
The Goal of the Century

There is no better example than Canadian Tire’s actions following the announcement that a famous piece of Canada’s hockey heritage (the hockey sweater worn by Paul Henderson when he scored the series winning goal in the Canada/U.S.S.R summit series held in 1972) was up for auction.

The smart communications folk at Canadian Tire jumped in by saying they would bid for the sweater, a master stroke for three reasons:

  • they got coast-to-coast publicity – publicity that had a value far in excess of what they were expected to bid ($200,000)
  • the gesture perfectly supported the retailer’s desire to be seen as Canada’s hockey store
  • it’s great PR to be seen as a protector of an important part of Canada’s hockey heritage

Canadian Tire said it had plans for the jersey, but my guess is that they never expected to make the winning bid (it was widely known that much larger bids were coming from serious hockey collectors) and went ahead because it was such a great opportunity to advance a bunch of communications objectives at virtually no cost. And it worked. Perfectly. Should be must reading for anyone interested in learning the PR craft.

Link your product or service to a big event

GM followed a similar strategy when there was a huge controversy surrounding an incorrect call by an umpire that deprived a Detroit Tiger pitcher (Armando Galarraga) of a perfect game (no player on the opposing team got on base).

There was a virtual tsunami of coverage about the incident and GM found the perfect way to ride that wave – they announced that the pitcher was going to be awarded a free GM car. The total cost to GM was next to nothing, but the gesture attracted millions of dollars in free advertising according to industry estimates. Brilliant. And one more example that GM is rediscovering its mojo.

When the best public relations is no public relations

The makers of Dawn were smart to not run this commercial during the ongoing Gulf of Mexcio oil spill disaster.
The makers of Dawn were smart to not run this commercial during the ongoing Gulf of Mexcio oil spill disaster.

Let’s wrap up with a completely different example of PR. In fact, this one shows that sometimes the best PR is no PR. Say what? The best PR is no PR. That’s the strategy being followed by the makers of Dawn dishwashing liquid during the never-ending Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill disaster.

It’s widely known that Dawn is the product of choice to clean animals covered in oil, so the knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the timing is perfect to put out a press release and get some publicity. Dawn did just the opposite, because they are smart enough to know that it is bad PR to be seen to be profiting in any way from a disaster like the Gulf Oil Spill.

There were no press releases, no press conferences, no chest thumping. And guess what happened? There was a bunch of coverage, including an extended spot on CNN where the makers of Dawn were praised and…the product was shown on camera for at least 30 seconds. Guess how much that was worth? And it all happened because, in this case, the best PR was no PR.

Next time: Are you a candidate for destination marketing? (The originally planned subject for this blog.)


Wolfgang Franke is President & Creative Director of Words at Work Advertising & Marketing, a full service communications company established in 1988. Our growing list of valued clients are found throughout our local market, Markham and the Greater Toronto area, across Canada in cities such as London, Ontario, and Edmonton, Alberta, and an expanding list of international locations ranging from The Big Apple in New York to Kanturk, Ireland.



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