Daniel Torchia is managing director of Torchia Communications in Toronto.
“Public relations is all about common sense” is a quote used by many of us in the industry.
The operative word imbued with most meaning here is “common.” It does not describe intelligence or self-interest, but rather a principle that is shared among many people. It is inextricably tied to the well-being of persons so it seldom, if ever, will refer to behaviour that is inherently lopsided or unbalanced. Behaviour that adheres to the principle of common sense is usually the right one precisely because it promotes harmony among audience segments, groups and, lest we forget, organizations. It delivers success and sustainability in the long run and other very good benefits (sales, votes, traffic, etc.) in the short and long run. Common sense is obviously good.
Unfortunately, in our day and age, many companies allow a different type of “sense” to outweigh the common variety. We might be tempted to identify this sense as legal counsel, but it actually boils down to selfish counsel. It often resides in direct opposition to common sense.
Lego: a new battlefield between Greenpeace and Shell
When Lego received heat from Greenpeace recently for its partnership with Shell, the beloved toy company initially responded with expressions of sadness over how its prized logo was being used and misused.
On one side: a large group of Lego stakeholders (and obviously customers) complained about Shell’s negative impact and track record on the environment (a topic that concerns many people).
On the other side: a very wealthy and global company complained about the misuse of its personal pride and possession: its logo (perhaps a burgeoning issue of similar global interest and debate as the environment?). Both organizations delivered public jabs through social media. Perhaps if Lego, rightfully perceived as the Goliath, sought the high ground and wanted to aggressively defend the use of its logo, it should have stuck to personal, one-on-one communication as opposed to social media.
Sorry, Lego: stick to manufacturing and glorifying your product—not glorifying your logo.
Superman and memorial to Jeffrey Baldwin
When DC Entertainment, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company, first communicated with Todd Boyce of Toronto, it was to reject the man’s intended use of the Superman logo on a memorial to five-year-old Jeffrey Baldwin, the little boy who succumbed to terrible abuse at the hands of his grandparents. Boyce wanted to have the beloved Superman logo permanently etched on a public statue in honor of the tortured boy.
Wow. I get emotional just thinking about it. DC Entertainment’s first reaction was guided either by persons too eager to fight an intellectual property rights battle against evil pirates or counterfeit thieves, or persons with little time to spare for Mr. Boyce’s request.
Regardless, the company took a decision against common sense that, counterproductively, put the brand in danger. Thankfully, after much public pressure, the company reconsidered and now can resume positioning itself as human, loving and “commonsensical.” Consumers will be forgiving: they understand that companies, like people, will have errors in judgment from time to time. It’s okay to make a mistake, provided you do the right thing later.
Today, in whichever direction we look, we discover organizations turning against common sense, either for selfish reasons or because people in power have turned away from other people, caving in on and around themselves and their own interests.
There is no need to sound a clarion call for revolution here.
What is needed is a simple return to common sense. And, unlike other forms of counsel, common sense is quite affordable: it just requires time to listen.