Saturday, September 13, 2008

The PR Game

photo by Jesse McClain "Sunrise New Smyrna Beach"
I've been reading a fascinating book called, "Toxic Sludge is Good For You!" by John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton. At one point in the book they write about how Nestle in 1980 hired Rafael Pagan and Jack Mongoven to manage the image of Nestle because of the Nestle Boycott. They developed dossiers on groups-clergy, labor unions, etc supportive of the boycott. The boycott ended in 1984 but in 1989 the boycott was renewed. Nestle then hired "Ogilvy and Mather Public Relations to develop a strategy called 'proactive neutralization,' which included plans to monitor Nestle's critics..." The back cover of this book explains what this book is all about, "This book names names and reveals how public relations wizards concoct and spin the news, organize phony 'graassroots' front groups, spy on citizens, and conspire with lobbyists and politicians to thwart democracy." I highly recommend reading this book to get a good understanding of the PR Game. Should we be shocked that Medela has hired Ogilvy Public Relations? Ogilvy and Mather and Ogilvy Public Relations are part of one huge company.
To my surprise the other day, I realized that there are many players in the PR Game. Jennifer Laycock, of the lactivist blog, is hailed at one website as "Marketer of the week-Jennifer Laycock Unleashed." They ask, "Your biggest disaster? That would have to be my Bento Yum experiment. I was writing an article series based on a hobby site and the community discovered I was a marketer and turned on me like rabid dogs."
Jennifer teaches a workshop on "viral marketing and link baiting." She was a guest blogger in a discussion on , "Church Marketing Sucks."
Now my question is, who hired her to do the lactivist blog? Who? Prolacta? Medela? A non-profit breastfeeding organization? Shouldn't we be happy that we, too, have our own PR people? Which story to believe? Is the big story of "Got breastmilk" a fabrication? Is the California Milk Processor Board really going after someone in Alaska for using the "Got Milk" trademark? AT the US Patent & Trademark Office the trademark was filed in1993 and states "No claim is made to the exclusive right to use 'milk' apart from the mark as shown." (trademark #1903879) The California Milk Processor Board owns the trademark and a man named Jeff Manning, a PR man was board director for some time (no longer). Manning is credited with the slogan, "Got Milk." While the California Milk Processor Board seems to represent dairy farmers, its board seems to represent Dean Foods, Nestle, etc.) So is this one PR stunt versus another PR stunt? How do you get to the truth? There is the rub.....Obviously, we are a society that loves our lies. We don't demand the truth from our politicians, our non-profit organizations, and we definitely don't demand that corporations tell the truth.
When I tried to sign up at various "lactivist" private group internet discussions a few years ago, I was refused permission to be on those group lists. I felt very offended. But now I understand. Lactivism seems to have started out as a PR stunt. Where does the truth reside when everyone is playing this game? Does it serve breastfeeding promotion? Or do we get lost in the subterfuge, the lies, and the games?
Copyright 2008 Valerie W. McClain


  1. Valerie,

    While I appreciate your concern and share it on many fronts, I must say I do not appreciate the not-so-subtle accusation that "someone" is paying me off to write The Lactivist.

    Quite frankly, it's insulting.

    That said, I'll share your concerns that transparency is a HUGE issue right now in the world of blogs and online promotions. It's one of the biggest battles I fight when teaching companies how to work in the social media landscape. They want to get their message across, but they don't want to do things the old fashioned way...earning their coverage through good stories and interesting offerings to the community.

    Unfortunately, companies are reluctant to openly wade into these waters for reasons perfectly demonstrated in this blog post.

    While you ask some compelling questions, your blog also calls my integrity into question, doing potential damage to my reputation with no proof and no cause for suspicion other than "oh, she's in PR."

    That's sad. I've personally always felt one of the key things missing from the lactivist movement was good understanding of public relations and marketing. It's the entire reason I donated so many of my hours to the launch of the Ohio Breastfeeding Coalition and to behind the scenes work with dozens of moms who needed help figuring out how to handle now-public breastfeeding issues.

    What is the motivation for a company to operate with openness and transparency when someone with no facts to back them up can introduce questions and accusations like you have?

    And I'll take a guess that you haven't read much of my blog. If you had, you'd realize how amusing the idea is that I might be "backed" by Prolacta. ;)

  2. Jennifer is one person in the world of blogging whose reputation is beyond reproach. She has a reputation for honesty and transparency, intellligence and innovation. That's why I selected her as marketer of the week.

  3. Hi Valerie. I know Jennifer Laycock, and she's nothing like what you have portrayed her. Obviously, she has spoken for herself, but what you have said about her here is unacceptable. You don't know her, you obviously never read her blog except the one post that is recent, and all you have to go on is your bad experience with other sites to say that lactivism "must" be a pr stunt.
    No one who gets paid to promote breastmilk does it better than the millions of women who breastfeed and never see a dime of advertising income.
    Maybe you need to read a whole blog before jumping to judgment.
    Jennifer has been in the same industry for longer than I've known her, but she's a person, too, a mom who had difficulty with nursing. Maybe you've been there? I know I have. So please be more informed next time.

  4. Valerie, Jennifer Laycock has been speaking out against Prolacta repeatedly for over two and a half years. She's one of the handful of on-web voices to do so. You're way off base here.

  5. How does the public perceive PR work? I believe that Jennifer Laycock is an intelligent, caring person. But the problem is when the public believes that their views are being massaged by PR. The problem is not with Jennifer Laycock. She does her work well but when one mixes the personal with the professional-PR work, then some problems appear. What to believe? And frankly I don't know what to believe. Transparency and PR work are not equal. Those who work in PR may feel they are being transparent. But those who do not may feel that there is more to it. They may feel that their views are being manipulated, even if that is not so. For example, how could I believe that Jennifer might have been paid by Prolacta? Some of PR work requires "damage control." That means before the bad event goes public, the PR person gets the story out in the best manner possible. One can view an event in a variety of ways. Blogs are of real interest to public relations. It's all about social media marketing. Frankly, I don't know what to believe and I poised questions about this situation because I believe that PR professionals should not get involved in personal projects. They risk credibility even when they are followiing their heart-felt beliefs.

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