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Dubious Attempts at Public Relations

By Published on .

The recession was a godsend for flacks everywhere. It gave them the hook they needed for lame press release after lame press release, claiming that some marketing solution was the cure-all for your recession blues. Example: a release from WorkPlace Media touting its "groundbreaking" white paper "Three Reasons Why the American Workplace is a Marketing Oasis," which offered the sage advice of targeting employed consumers at their desks. Groundbreaking? Maybe seven years ago.

What screams "wise economic decision" during this downturn more than "leveraging" your 401(k) to buy a Speedpro Imaging franchise? Speedpro, which creates building and vehicle wraps, said in a December release it had sold seven franchises "since mid-September." And it offered third-party support for its claim of success: "It's really the perfect storm of good, smart businesspeople watching their 401(k)s drop and wanting more control," said Franchise Research Institute CEO Jeff Johnson.

Here's a clever one. A specialty-sock manufacturer tied the idea of investing for comfort and security during a recession to the comfort and security of its socks -- or something like that. In its press release, Thorlos announced an ad in the Omaha World-Herald addressed to Warren Buffet. The pitch from its PR agency said the "whimsical" campaign was designed to get people thinking differently about investing: trusting their sock broker rather than their stock broker.

If you need to continue your marketing and communications programs but are concerned about an economic situation that may get worse, D S Simon Productions has a solution. The video-communications firm issued a release pushing "Financial Crisis PR Project Insurance." Clients pay a small premium, and if at any point the Dow falls 1,500 points below the three-month low on the project's start date, clients can cancel the project, paying only the premium. Win-win.

Like nearly every other release reporters got in the second half of the year, start-up Media Pitchers' started with these three words: "The current economic." It chose to follow the popular trifecta with the word "woes," as opposed to the oft-used "situation" or "uncertainty." That led into its spiel about how some fearless marketers are becoming more aggressive and using the age-old practice of media pitching -- but with a twist. That twist set up a pitch for its charge-by-the-hour media-pitching service.

Barack Obama's election was historic on a number of levels, but did you know it put the city of Chicago on the map as the "leading influencer of America's new values-driven culture"? A Porter Novelli release said its ConsumerStyles Survey deemed Chicago a "leader in citizens' concern for social causes." Porter said Chicago residents tend to be stronger proponents of environmental action than the general population as well. Guessing there was nothing in that study about their history of electing crooked governors.

Obama's election had a number of other effects: He made it cool to be an American again and created high demand for black people at parties. Oh, you didn't know that black people are the must-have accessory of the holiday season? A Gawker item reported that a PR firm said its clients were demanding more African-Americans on their guest lists, so the firm devised a "Diversified Holiday Guest List" of the 10 most suitable black guests, including publicist Bonnie Morrison and socialite Genevieve Jones.

And even though he lost, that mavericky maverick John McCain made an impact. A press release was issued hyping the release of the eagerly anticipated book "Maverick Marketing," by Tom Hayes. "In these perilous times of difficult communication, marketers are 'reloading' and dusting off their marketing plans with 'maverick' techniques enabled by digital media," the release read. Score two for Mr. Hayes' PR rep for tying the release of the book to both the recession and the election.

Think your kid is on drugs? Then cut off a chunk of his or her hair and test it yourself, at home, courtesy of Confirm BioSciences and its HairConfirm Prescription drug-test kit. Confirm BioSciences issued a release saying its kit "overcomes the limitations of two- or three-day saliva or urine screenings" and has the ability to test for 12 different types of drugs. There's nothing like a little in-home drug testing to bridge the gap between parents and their kids.

The biggest load of the year was issued by 5WPR on behalf of Weatherproof Garment, hyping its historic purchase of a two-second Super Bowl spot. The release was followed, less than an hour later, by a retraction after the agency and client supposedly cleared up a "miscommunication" about whether or not the spot was purchased or about to be purchased. Yeah, OK! The stunt worked, though, and the bogus story of a two-second commercial was picked up by major media outlets including USA Today.

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