The oratory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to inspire communicators a half-century after his death.
On the federal holiday celebrating his legacy, brand managers can share important messages of inclusion and optimism for the future. PR pros can highlight corporate social responsibility efforts and insulate an organization’s reputation from backlash.
Perhaps most important, it’s a chance to talk with hope and compassion about what divides us as a nation. In these uncertain times, King’s words can serve as balm or benediction.
There are many ways to celebrate the life and messages of the civil rights leader. For PR pros, some may take the day to reflect or offer takeaways from King’s shining example.
Axia PR wrote a blog post offering these lessons for PR pros from King’s legacy:
- Using speeches to change awareness
- Overcoming adversity
- Changing public perception
- Using the media to your advantage
- Mastery of language
King used many PR tactics in his fight against racism and injustice in the U.S. The stories of his extraordinary life and campaigns are excellent fodder for blogs, social media posts and guest articles on other publications.
Many organizations are using social media to share pictures and quotes from the venerated leader.
Family members of the civil rights leader have shared historic photos:
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 21, 2019
Government agencies are commemorating the day and calling on citizens to serve:
Today, we celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. as a national day of service, a chance to empower individuals, strengthen communities and bridge barriers. Let us know what you have planned to commemorate #MartinLutherKingJrDay. #MLK90 pic.twitter.com/0ULQTEZrCN
— U.S. Dept of Defense (@DeptofDefense) January 21, 2019
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 21, 2019
Join us in walking in the footsteps of the great Martin Luther King, Jr. as we honor his day with service to our communities. Find an event near you! #WorkLife #MLKDayhttps://t.co/ryz2AP0tpw pic.twitter.com/MQOJvrpzCK
— NSA/CSS (@NSAGov) January 21, 2019
Delta airlines gave money to the National Park Service to reopen Martin Luther King Jr. National Park, which has been closed because of the federal government shutdown.
The Delta Air Lines Foundation is honored to give the @natlparkservice a grant to reopen the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park on its most important weekend of the year.
— Delta (@Delta) January 18, 2019
The airline also has shared employee stories:
Dreams are meant to be shared.
— Delta (@Delta) January 21, 2019
Others are sharing quotes and clips from King’s many famous public speeches:
When we begin fighting violence and injustice, fear will chase after us. But we must not let it takeover. Listen to what Dr. King had to say about fear in his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” #MLKDay pic.twitter.com/zYQSyXiM2n
— Intl Justice Mission (@IJM) January 21, 2019
Today we honor an Atlanta native, a civil rights leader and a national hero.
— Atlanta United FC (@ATLUTD) January 21, 2019
“If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward”
― Martin Luther King Jr. 🙌🇺🇸 #MLKDay pic.twitter.com/vzq3f7BX1C
— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) January 21, 2019
— (RED) (@RED) January 21, 2019
— Virginia Tech (@virginia_tech) January 21, 2019
Others have tied their own mission to King’s legacy:
On this #MLKDay , it's worth remembering Louis Armstrong's words after "Bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama 1965. Armstrong, a strong supporter of King, angrily told the press, "They would beat Jesus if he was black and marched." Thank you, Dr. King. Thank you, Louis Armstrong. pic.twitter.com/8Qf1PZBtU0
— Louis Armstrong (@ArmstrongHouse) January 21, 2019
— Teacher2Teacher (@teacher2teacher) January 21, 2019
Happy Martin Luther King Day!
"We must all learn to live together as brothers – or we will all perish together as fools."
Photo: King with his son Dexter on 14 October 1964, the day he learned he'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. #MLKDay
— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) January 21, 2019
A popular hashtag trending on Twitter is #Ihaveadream, perhaps King’s most memorable quote:
— A.N.D. Staffing (@ANDStaffing) January 21, 2019
However, marketers and PR pros should be cautious when using King’s words to highlight or sell their services and products.
AdWeek reported that you might have to pay a licensing fee for some uses.
According to The Washington Post, “All of King’s papers and speeches are owned by family members, some of whom also operate the licensing operation through which those who want to use them must go.”
While the entire speech is copyrighted, is it possible to use a sentence or two under fair usage laws? Are images of King copyrighted, as well? Images of King can be purchased on royalty-free images sites like Getty Images with prices ranging from $150 and up for standard editorial rights.
Is a meme with a quote considered editorial?
Daliah Saper of Saper Law explains: “Those who try to bypass formal licensing of Dr. King’s speech or his images and rely on a fair-use defense must be prepared to justify each use on a case-by-case basis. There is no clear definition of what does and does not constitute fair use. Courts will consider the context, purpose and amount of use in making their determinations. For example, classroom or editorial use might qualify as a fair use, whereas use in an advertisement or promotional tweet will be tougher to justify. Converting an image or excerpts from a speech into a meme does not automatically make the use editorial or ‘fair.’ Indeed, even news outlets can’t just use images as part of stories without permission. That’s why they have their own photographers or they license images to run with their stories.”
AdWeek offered these tips for brands intending to post about MLK:
- The post or tweet should be a tribute and not a promotion.
- If you decide to post something related to King, stay on brand.
- The bigger the brand, the more exposure.
- The hashtag #MLKday is safe to use since you are referencing the day.
- Talk about the topic, rather than using a quote or King’s name, likeness or quote.
Inserting your brand into the conversation can be a big risk, and social media users won’t hesitate to call your organization out over a gaffe.
Companies need to STFU on holidays. If you can't do it right, don't do it at all. RT @ZzzQuil Today is the day for dreaming. Happy MLK Day
— Kristina Nette (@KristinaNette) January 21, 2014
Dodge drew backlash last year for its MLK-themed Super Bowl ad.
Socially conscious messaging requires a light touch and extensive testing in focus groups.
Several companies during the 2018 Super Bowl attempted to highlight their commitment to social justice and service. Verizon thanked first responders in its spot; Budweiser talked about providing water to those affected by natural disasters.
When Dodge used the voice of MLK to sell its truck, for many watching the game, it crossed a line.
Brand managers take heed: A poorly thought-out message could be more damaging than neglecting to say anything at all.
How are you talking about Martin Luther King Day, PR Daily readers?