How to be the right kind of ‘edgy’ in your PR campaign

PR pros are constantly looking for an edge to lift their message above the competition, but some risks aren’t worth taking. Here’s how to know whether to take the plunge.

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Working in public relations can be like tending a bonfire.

You have to feed the fire just enough to keep everyone warm and happy but not so much that it gets uncomfortable or out of control.

We all know how easy it is to toss on one too many logs. A while back, I was working at a PR agency that had just started to sign some high-profile clients, including a popular food and beverage brand. The client came to us feeling outgunned, attacked by a well-known celebrity who had joined forces with an equally prominent activist organization.

We went on the offensive — literally, in my view. While I was confident our strategy would work, I still wasn’t on board. Our campaign invoked sexual innuendos and gender stereotypes that I simply couldn’t support. Beyond the immediate ethical issues, I worried that the strategy could spark backlash from other interest groups.

In the end, the campaign worked. The celebrity went on the defensive, and shortly after that, the attacks on our client ceased with no disruption to the brand or its business.

Yet, for me, the “win” was bittersweet.

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