Steeped In History: December PR History

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

Long before there was a Tea Party, there was the Tea Party.

As we know, the Boston Tea Party was a protest against British taxation, as a band of Colonists disguised as Native Americans boarded three British ships and dumped their stock of tea into the harbor. It occurred on the night of December 16, 1773, and it was one of first great public relations efforts in our history; it also may have been one of the nicest.

According to contemporary media reports, none of the British sailors were hurt, the tea was the only merchandise damaged, and when one of “Indians” was caught trying to steal some, his associates ran him off. The raiders even replaced a padlock that had been broken and helped sweep the decks afterward. If only our visiting relatives were so thoughtful.

The group’s efforts were very well-received by the media. One paper’s headline read, “High Tea in Boston Harbor — Band of ‘Mohawks’ dump 342 chests of Darjeeling off Griffin’s Wharf.” The raid was called a “happy event,” with a number of “brave & resolute men” doing “all in their power to save their country from ruin.”

Missing among the admirers were George Washington and Ben Franklin, the latter of whom reportedly offered to personally reimburse the Brits (no doubt with Benjamins).

As we know, the British responded to the raid by cracking down harder on the Colonists. And the Colonists responded by, well, starting a new nation. Since that triumph, our nation has enjoyed a rich history, one that has been frequently celebrated on film by many great American actors, including Daniel Day-Lewis, Christian Bale, Henry Cavill and Mel Gibson. We did win the war, right?

All of which goes to show: When it comes to great PR, sometimes, it’s okay to go a little bit overboard.

Join us for our next GFW PRSA luncheon on Wednesday, November 14, at Colonial Country Club!

As a relatively new frontier, digital is a discipline that has generally been left to specialists. However, we’re not always lucky enough to have one of these specialists on hand when a prospect or client asks questions or indicates an interest in exploring this realm. As digital tactics and strategies become more integrated, if not inseparable, from PR and communications, the ability to talk digital is more important than ever. In this presentation, Jim Lin (Partner/SVP, Ketchum Digital) will share relevant points and best practices on digital tactics that brands and organizations are asking about today. With this knowledge, you will become dangerous enough to get your client or prospect to the next meeting, when you can bring a specialist into the room to take it the rest of the way.

When: Wednesday, November 14, 2018, 11:30 AM  – 1:00 PM

Where: Colonial Country Club 

Register here.

Wanna Get Away? October PR History

When the going gets tough, the tough get going – on a taxpayer-subsidized vacation. And that’s exactly what the executives at insurance giant AIG did in September 2008, when they flew out for a relaxing vacation at the swanky St. Regis hotel in southern California. And boy, did they need it: Just six days earlier, AIG had received an $85 billion government bailout. Apparently they converted it into traveler’s checks.

To their credit, the AIG execs made the most of their trip, spending a whopping $440,000. The tab included $10,000 in bar bills, $1,400 in salon expenses and $23,000 at the spa, where they racked up thousands of frequent-rubber miles.

AIG’s Most Excellent Vacation hit the media in early October and was a PR disaster. The New York Daily News may have summed it up best with their headline: “AIG big shots get $500G vacations on taxpayers’ dime.” And when it was reported that rooms at the St. Regis ran up to $1,200 a night, one Congressman pointedly remarked, “That’s more than some of my constituents pay on a mortgage payment on homes they’re now losing.”

To their defense, AIG had planned the trip before the bailout. They also tipped generously, spending another $3,000 of (taxpayer) money. And whenever possible, they used a Groupon.

But give AIG credit for being consistent. Just three months before the bailout, they fired the CEO — and gave him a $15 million parachute. And in 2014, another AIG CEO sued the government, complaining that the bailout was not generous enough. Meanwhile, several other executives are still hoping for a lucrative movie deal offer from Oliver Stone.

All of which should help PR pros remember: You never want to have bad optics. But if you do, at least make sure your room has a nice view.

How a Photo-Op Tanked a Campaign: September PR History

It was skullduggery: You can’t always tell that a PR effort is headed in the wrong direction, but sometimes you can. And that’s what happened on September 13, 1988, when Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis visited General Dynamics.

Dukakis had a double-digit lead in the polls, but his opponent, George Bush, had gained traction criticizing his positions on defense. In an effort to reinforce his flank, the Dukakis campaign decided to have their man visit a defense contractor and be photographed riding around in a tank. That would have been fine, but then the candidate was told that he would have to wear a helmet during the ride. And that’s when the electoral wheels started coming off.

Dukakis stands only 5’ 8” tall, and probably three feet of that is his head. So when the candidate put on the helmet, it was not the best look. How bad was it? The reporters on hand were seen laughing out loud; by one account, Sam Donaldson was literally doubled over. The Bush team was equally amused; they thought Dukakis looked like Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, and had a great time saying to each other “Tank you very much.” You can see the infamous shot for yourself here.

To this day, members of the Dukakis campaign disagree on exactly where things went wrong. But they all agree it was a PR disaster, and rightly so: By the next week, one poll found Dukakis’s support had dipped 25 percent. To this day, campaigns remain vigilant about preventing “Dukakis in the tank” moments. If only it were that easy, right?

All of which should help us remember: While it’s always good to put on your thinking cap, first make sure it fits.