5 reasons why PR can fail

PR campaigns can #fail in a heartbeat. What are the key factors that need to be kept in mind while crafting PR outreach?

Target Audience is too broad

"A common issue with most PR pitches is that they’re simply far too broad. In the pursuit of trying to cater to everyone, brands end up serving no one. Don’t be afraid to exclude speaking to an audience that has no impact on your industry reputation", advises Wesley Mathew, head of marketing, India, Middle East & Africa, Meltwater Group.

Mathew adds that, "The days of spray and pray distribution are over. Like consumers, journalists are inundated with spammy sounding emails on a daily basis. Communications professionals need to take the time to understand what kind of content appeals to a particular journalist, editor or publication. If you’d like to take the hard work out of it, there are media contact tools that allow for targeted and highly specific PR outreach."

Breakout topical PR campaign: Burger King 

Mathew says Burger King has aced it with a number of successful campaigns in 2018, "From its AI ads to its 'Whopper Neutrality' campaign, the brand is seemingly everywhere. The ad campaigns drive media coverage, as well, with the brand appearing in publications from USA Today to Fortune to Food & Wine."

It was also very clued in as Mathew says, "Into the zeitgeist at all times." For example, "To help commemorate the passing of a law allowing women in Saudi Arabia to drive, Burger King offered a free Whopper sandwich for every woman who visited one of its drive-throughs behind the wheel. The sandwiches sported a wrapper printed with the phrase, “Celebrating our driving women,” in both English and Arabic."

Though the campaign was criticised for being insensitive, the brand pushed its 'Whopper Neutrality' message very well and consistently. 

Know your communication channels

Pooja Garg Khan, corporate affairs and CSR Consultant says, "Most PR people try to use all channels available to them to launch a campaign which is a mistake. Based on the objectives, you need to see which channel whether social (which platform), traditional media, electronic, work best for reaching out to your target audience and focus on the same for optimal results."

Anup Sharma, senior director, PRCAI, agrees saying, "For example, if an organization is running a campaign showing it believes in customer-first, it should also ensure that every employee of its organisation imbibes that as part of that culture."

Channel and audience mismatch: Aakash Institute and its talent hunt campaign 

Praveen Kumar Singh, a strategic communications advisor, outlines this campaign to talk about the mismatch between the channels of PR and the audience. He says Aakash Institute’s ‘Anthe’ (Aakash National Talent Hunt Exam (ANTHE) campaign was poorly conceived and implemented. The underlying message was unclear. The campaign was broadcast during shows meant for children 5-8 years which was again unthoughtful as the ‘Anthe’ competition was meant for children studying in 8th - 10th standard."

Breakout campaign: Cure.fit and Raw Pressery 

Varun Bhagath with Gray Matter Capitals points to Cure.fit and Raw Pressery as PR campaigns with heft. He says, "While the novelty of their offerings, when compared to what’s existing in the market today, can be attributed as a primary reason for the PR success, it takes a special strategic impetus to be in the news every month, that too in Tier 1 media channels such across print, online and broadcast paving the way for both to raise funds during the year."

Wrong Target Audience, cultural insensitivity 

Sometimes PR campaigns can miss out on who their target audience is.

Malavika Surendra Babu who is with 'The PRactice' says, " If your message does not strike a chord with your target audience, the best of golden ideas will fall flat. A B2B campaign and a B2C campaign can drive success with the same message, but the packaging, channel and essence of the campaign have to be tailored in accordance with the right target audience. Often, we disregard this basic detail and thereby failing to achieve our goals."

PR Fail: The Fortune Foods Abar Pet Pujo crisis 

Varun C Bhagath, communications specialist with Gray Matters Capital explains why the Fortune Food Abar Pet Pujo was a mismatch with the audience when the campaign went mainstream.

Says Bhagath, "The Fortune Foods Abar Pet Pujo advertisement released during Durga Puja in Bengali was a masterpiece as it symbolically showed the slaying of the demon Mahisasur ( a husband’s hunger for food) with delicious non-vegetarian delicacies by Goddess Durga (the wife) which made it surpass the average view rate on social media channels of Facebook and Youtube, it was over 1 lakh in terms of engagement."

The campaign worked very well, till, as Bhagath says, "The marketing team decided to release an English version of the ad along with social media creatives of the wife in the form of the Goddess serving non-veg food. While consuming non-vegetarian food during Navratri may be a norm for Bengalis, in other parts of India, devotees refrain from consumption of meat during the 9 days of Navratri. This resulted in a cultural backlash from religious outfits forcing the brand to apologize and withdraw the English version meant for the rest of India."

Bhagath adds that, "Though the ad was great, campaign creators forgot to take into account the cultural sensitivities and lazily went ahead for a One-Size-Fits-All approach. From a PR crisis management standpoint, highlighting the symbolism of the ad and the Bengali context to educate those opposing it could have been an approach which could have been adopted instead of withdrawing the ad altogether."

Sharing another example, Kumar Singh, says, "The key ingredient for a good PR campaign is how well the client’s objective is linked to a utility for the target audience. The utility can be physical or psychological. This involves thorough research on the target audience, developing the right messages and delivering those messages through the most relevant tools. Most failures happen due to using of the wrong brand ambassador or irrelevant media. For example, Amitabh Bachchan fails to strike a chord in the Kalyan Jewelers ad, whereas he hits the home run when he speaks on Swachh Bharat Mission or polio eradication. Similarly, playing radio ads on ‘Modi Govt. made adequate urea available’ on private FM radio channels might not have succeeded as the target audience was hooked on to Vividh Bharati or FM Gold at best.

Digital amplification 

Not understanding the digital bit of the campaign can be a big reason for a campaign misfire. Says Bhagath, "Inadequacy of pre-campaign research – be it in terms of media mapping on the traditional PR front or understanding the behavioural mindset of the end consumer and limited knowledge among practitioners of optimizing campaigns mid-stream on the digital front have proved to be the Achilles heel."

One celebrity that uses social media well is Priyanka Chopra. The Priyanka Chopra - Nick Jonas mega marriage is a lesson in social media PR management. Pratishtha Kaura, manager, Text 100  explains that "The article in New York magazine that was making rounds calling her a ‘scam artist’ was deleted within 24 hours of when it went live due to the backlash it received across the world, which some people said was planted. But all’s well that ends well as it was a well-managed crisis where people (or her fans) became the voice of what she would have conveyed. A classic case of how a huge set of follower base can become influencers."

Unclear target and non-measurable tools 

Says Sharma, "While most activities of any organisation have pre-defined measurable goals and target, it's very difficult to measure the efficacy of a PR campaign. In the absence of metrics and tools, not every aspect of a PR / communication outreach can be quantitatively measured. So the success of a campaign will always be under question as only the "earned" exposure is credited to PR campaign while the measurable impact comes from "Paid".

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.