Think Your Company Needs A Facelift? Not So Fast!


Lee Kravetz, Senior Account Supervisor, Landis Communications Inc here, and like most Americans, I’ve been captivated the news these past few weeks… as well as by some of the most public, and interesting, PR maneuvers I’ve ever seen. 

This month, AIG received government bailout money and then turned around and gave its top employees millions in bonuses.  In the midst of the enormous public backlash, AIG took dramatic face-saving measures.  Among its efforts, AIG rebranded itself and emerged as AIU Holdings.

So, to borrow an appropriate phrase this week: Why is this PR technique different from all other PR techniques? 

While the very definition of public relations is shaping a client’s public-facing image, much of PR works below the surface, making small waves that stir the pot.  After all, did you know 90 percent of all media is placed by PR professionals? 

Still, sometimes PR means making big waves, or taking large steps to…well…correct. 

Here are some other examples: In 1996, after a ValuJet received a barrage of negative publicity following the death of all 110 passengers in a Florida crash, it changed its name to ATA.  Following the Enron scandal, accounting firm Arthur Andersen changed its name to Accenture.   After a number of civilian casualties in Iraq by private defense contractors, Blackwater changed its name to Xe.

But is rebranding effective?  Not always.

Take Tropicana.  Two months ago, Tropicana hired Peter Arnell to rebrand its Tropicana Pure Premium product, which included a package redesign.  Consumers, attached to the existing brand, did not bite.  In fact, sales of the Tropicana Pure Premium line plummeted 20% between January and the end of February 2009, costing the brand tens of millions of dollars.  After less than two months, Tropicana, following Coke’s lead after its famous “New Coke” rebranding misstep in the 1980s, is scrapping its rebranding efforts and reverting to the old. 

Consumers are smart and loyal, and PR is the facilitator between consumers and a business.  When brands screw up, rebranding can go a long way toward that public apology.  In the case of Tropicana, re-rebranding can also go a long way toward correcting a misstep.   

On to the LCI buzzworthy tips of the week:

One of the most popular videos on YouTube this past week featured a busy subway station in Belgium, where, one-by-one, in a seemingly spontaneous manner, commuters started to dance to the Do Re Mi song (aka Maria’s Dance) from “The Sound of Music.”  The video finished with more than 200 commuters getting into what turned into a huge choreographed dance.  Turns out it was a publicity stunt for a new reality show.  And people, to the tune of a million-plus, have noticed. See the video here.

The LCI team has recently uncovered a city gem, a circa-1920s speakeasy called Bourbon and Branch where we’ll be tipping back a few Wednesday night.  At 501 Jones St (between Geary and O’Farrell), Bourbon and Branch is so era-specific that you need a password to get into the door.  (Bourbon & Branch provides one when you make a reservation…which you also need to get into the bar.)  For a glimpse back on the era of Prohibition, check out:

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