Online innovators

22 Aug

The challenge thrown down in the previous post was to identify examples of PR-led innovation online. Here are my first two examples. (I make no apologies that neither is a technology innovation – instead they use online media to further debate and dialogue). I’d welcome further examples…

Philip Morris owns several brands, but none so famous or so controversial as Marlboro cigarettes. Yet in the face of overwhelming medical evidence concerning the ill effects of smoking (as well as the potential lawsuits from sick smokers), it needed to face up to a tough communications challenge. Say little and admit nothing (the line probably proposed by the company’s legal advisers), or own up and move on (thus protecting the company’s customers and its non-cigarette brands). Here’s what is written on the Philip Morris USA website:

We agree with the overwhelming medical and scientific consensus that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and other serious diseases in smokers. Smokers are far more likely to develop serious diseases, like lung cancer, than non-smokers. There is no “safe” cigarette.

These words on this company website were a stunning revelation when they first appeared several years ago. They are still surprising today. I have no insight into the battles fought to get them there, but I’d like to praise the company’s management and its PR advisers.

My other example of PR-driven corporate website innovation is a European one – and drawn from an equally sensitive business, oil extraction.

Royal Dutch/Shell Group has been under attack on many environmental and ethical fronts. These issues aren’t going to go away. So how can the company’s PR strategy face up to them? Quite simply, Shell uses its website to acknowledge that it is involved in a whole series of difficult Issues (previously, the page was more forcefully called ‘Issues and Dilemmas’, and was directly linked from the corporate home page).

Of course, the critics will call this a PR whitewash. Maybe it’s a subtle point, but the language suggests it’s more than this. It’s an attempt to engage in important debates on topics that matter. It’s a gentle and appropriate form of public relations persuasion.

Both Philip Morris and Shell are faced with unavoidable issues. Their future success depends on their ability to navigate these issues and retain the trust of the public (and legislators). That’s why they’ve adopted PR-led communicaitons strategies.

Ethical dilemmas, or innovative uses of spam and affiliate marketing. What do you want to discuss?

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