7 PR wins for the first half of 2018

A Pacific atoll promotes tourism with an environmental pledge. A gun control campaign launches nationwide school walkouts. An air disaster draws praise for the pilot.

With the year halfway over, we at Ragan decided to take stock of PR winners and losers over the last six months.

The winners reaped a harvest of publicity for causes that ranged from World Cup soccer to gay and lesbian tourism in Las Vegas. (As for the PR blunders, check out our other story.)

Here are a few big wins, in no particular order:

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 crisis response

In April, a passenger died after she was partially sucked out a window of a Southwest Airlines plane flying from New York to Dallas. The plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after an engine failed and one of the plane’s windows shattered, leading to rapid cabin depressurization.

This terrifying tragedy would be a serious crisis for any airline. Nevertheless, David Martin, founder of Heed Public Relations, praises Southwest for acing its crisis communications management after the fiasco. (He does not represent Southwest.)

Citing a Wall Street Journal article “that every PR person should read,” he says, “Southwest leadership had a plan, stuck to it, and kept the public and their customers up to speed on events throughout the aftermath. And they did everything with obvious compassion.”

When The New York Times follows a disaster with the headline, “Southwest pilot of Flight 1380 is Navy veteran hailed for her ‘nerves of steel,'” you know you got your messaging right.

Student survivors of the Florida high school shooting

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, in which 17 people died, sparked a nationwide student movement that included school walkouts by youths demanding stricter gun control laws. Survivors David Hogg and Emma González became “the new faces of gun reform,” successfully pressuring organizations to end their relationships with the National Rifle Association and with Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

“Judging by the volume of coverage for the school walkouts this week across the nation to protest gun violence, this may turn into one of the most successful public relations campaigns in recent memory,” Forbes reported.

On the right, shooting survivor student Kyle Kashuv, shut out by many journalists looking for an anti-gun narrative, took his pro-Second Amendment message into the Oval Office, where he met with the president and first lady. He supported a bill from Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the “Stop School Violence Act.”

PR losers included the NRA, although its membership soared in the wake of the attack. The shooter was not an NRA member, but the student movement framed the organization as responsible because of its pro-gun stance. This message also was pushed by Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who praised his own “amazing leadership.”

He earned a black eye, however, when the news emerged that his deputies hid behind their cars rather than engaging the shooter. Worse, they prevented paramedics from entering a building where students were bleeding out. This hung around his department’s neck a memorable moniker that no PR campaign will ever remove: “the Broward cowards.”

Various boycotts resulted in counterboycotts. Did anything change? Will it ever? The shootings keep happening.

The Palau Pledge

After decades of ecologically destructive practices by tourists, the Palau Pledge campaign required all visitors entering the Pacific paradise to sign a good behavior promise that is stamped in their passport, notes Heather Taylor, a writer at Advertising Week. The campaign was created by Host/Havas Australia for The Palau Legacy Project.

This is “the tourist’s personal pledge to Palau’s citizens that the visitor will help keep the island preserved now and for future generations,” says Taylor, who wrote about the campaign. “This means no stomping on its delicate coral, no littering, and no devouring all of their delicacies, as illustrated in the campaign’s video, which is also required inflight viewing for inbound Palau visitors.”

The Palau Pledge campaign won three Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.


A number of experts disagreed with our listing of IHOP among this half-year’s PR losers. IHOP (a.k.a., International House of Pancakes) announced it was changing its name to IHOb because it was expanding its burger offerings. This turned out to be a publicity stunt.

Jamie Izaks, president of All Points Public Relations, called it “pragmatically creative—a simple letter turn creating a large-scale campaign that crossed into multiple layers of marketing, advertising, PR, social media and more. For a restaurant that has become stale in many ways over the years, this initiative opened consumers’ eyes and created buzz the brand needed.”

Marketing strategist David Meerman Scott captured the mixed reactions of some. “IHOP/IHOb on one hand is a win,” he says. “They got tons of PR. But it was also a fail because they scared some of their most loyal fans.”

Don’t get between a pancake lover and that short stack drenched in syrup and melting butter.

Starbucks closes for racial sensitivity training

Starbucks, Starbucks. You again. I would have chalked up this this year’s racially charged incident as yet another PR belly-flop by the midlist coffee brewer. Several respected experts I consulted, however, saw this as a win.

The management of a Starbucks called the police on two African-American men who sat in a store without ordering anything and asked to use the restroom. (They said they were waiting for a friend.) The cops arrested the men. Starbucks apologized to the men and closed its 8,000 stores in the United States for a day to conduct anti-bias training.

Starbucks faced a terrible situation of its own making, says Jonathan Rick of The Jonathan Rick Group. “Yet, ultimately, the company handled the crisis with transparency, leadership, and bold action,” he says. “Closing every single U.S. store for several hours to better train your staff means losing real money for the sake of a principle.”

Shel Holtz of Holtz Communication + Technology wrote a blog post headlined, “It may not be perfect, but Starbucks’ response to racial incident is on the right track.”

Rick and Holtz are the experts, but in my view Starbucks’ new policy—no need to buy anything; its stores are as public as an inner city public library—risks annoying actual paying customers. Will Starbucks become the go-to potty destination for urban throngs during St. Patrick’s Day parades and Cinco de Mayo festivals? Will fragrant transients park their shopping carts by the door, occupy Starbucks tables and sit mumbling to their inner demons?

Time will tell. Either way, Twitter had fun:

Iceland’s World Cup promotion

One of the half-year’s biggest PR wins was Iceland’s promotion of the country centered on its participation in the World Cup, says Pekka Paavonpera of VPR Media. The campaign was aimed at the United States and other countries that did not qualify for the tournament and whose soccer fans did not have their own team to cheer on at the Cup.

Leading the charge, Paavonpera notes, was the country’s official tourism website and Iceland Naturally, a marketing cooperative composed of firms that promote the tourism, services, products and culture of the volcanic island.

The prime minister invited fans who were not represented at the Cup to support Iceland, and they were urged to sign up online to become soccer team supporters. The promotion included articles on bars in the States where people could watch Iceland’s games live on big-screen TVs. The campaign was supported on social media as well.

“All in all, a brilliant campaign from start to finish,” Paavonpera says.

Visit Las Vegas’ LGBTQ video

A video spot from Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority featuring a same-sex couple returning to the city where they first met has drawn 9 million views on YouTube.

“It’s beautiful, romantic and it has caused quite a stir on social media,” Forbes stated.

“I’m sitting here crying at a lesbian wedding commercial for the LAS VEGAS TOURISM BOARD,” the magazine quoted one Twitter user as saying.

The video is part of a series of four digital short films and broadcast spots that embrace contemporary storylines called “Only Vegas Moments,” says Meghan Speranzo, PR associate group account director with R&R Partners, which produced the campaign.

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