PR agencies will at some point find themselves faced with the opportunity to work with a company that at one point in its history was a great. The brand in question was so well known that it was a household name. Years later that brand has lost its way and some rival has eaten its proverbial lunch. PR people, being the optimists they are, love the idea of making the once great business great again. Of course, deep down even they know that their chances of success are tied to what the brand in question actually does. If the client has finally start making a good product again, and started solving pricing and distribution problems, then PR can really step up and be a major part of the turnaround.
I recall being invited to try and help a once great Canadian business (there’s aren’t many Canadian tech businesses that were huge so you can probably guess who they are). I met the CEO and we talked about how they could tell their story in a better way. I threw out a tag line that summed up this approach. Following the meeting I heard that he loved the thinking that I and a colleague had given him. We were excited to be a part of this future success story. Then things went quiet and then, rather odly, we heard that our contact at the client had been asked to leave and then we heard that the tag line we’d given them was being used for all their adverts. We were paid nothing for that tag line btw. Indeed it seemed they’d used the meeting to get some free advice and were then acting on it. Of course the free advice didn’t really save the company and it has now filed for bankruptcy.
I truly believed the advice we had given was great advice. But at the end of the day the advice was about how they managed their communications and not about how they managed their business. What they needed was a better business model, not a new tag line or better messaging. When you realize that PR alone can’t really save a business it makes you (as a PRO) feel a little sad. We’d all like to think that with our help the business can be turned around. But unless the problems that got the business in to trouble in the first place have been solved, then PR will at best slow the process of decline. So next time you are faced with an opportunity to turn around the image of a company, be sure to find out that that is all that is needed and that the business itself is taking the steps it needs to to fix its underlying business. Otherwise you too could witness the death of a brand that has really sharp positioning but little else.