Creating good relationships with the popular press and other media to help companies communicate messages to their publics, customers, the general public and governmental regulators is the hole of public relations (PR). The job consists of not only encouraging the press to cover positive stories about companies, but also of managing unfavorable rumors, stories and events. Regarding the latter the distinction between advertising and public relations has become an issue now considered by the United States Supreme Court. Nike was criticized for using sweatshop labor in Asia and responded to critics with paid advertising. The court decided that freedom of speech issues did not pertain to the ads, and the associated civil suit against the firm for false advertising could go forward, Indeed Nike appears to have exacerbated and extended the problem form a public relations standpoint by taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
The importance of public relations in International marketing is perhaps best demonstrated by the Bridgestone/Firestone Tires safety recall disaster of 2000. The Japanese company was blamed forever 100 deaths in the United States because of its defective tires. True to form in such corporate disasters the Japanese CEO of the American subsidiary declared his full and personal responsibility for the deaths at a US senate hearing. Such an approach is good public relations in Japan. However in Washington the senators wee not interested in apologies. Moreover, the company blamed its customer. Ford Motor Company for the problems as well, accusing Ford of telling customers to under-inflate the tires for a smoother ride. The problem spread to other markets – Saudi Arabia banned imports of vehicles equipped with Firestone tires, unbelievably the company’s response to the Saudi action has been to denounce it as a violation of WTP agreements. The global impact of this product quality and public relations disaster is certain to be great and long lasting. Perhaps the company would have been better off promoting its ISO 9000 ratings.
PR firm’s billings in the international arena have been growing to double rates for some years. Handling such international PR problems as global workplace standards has become big business for companies serving corporate clients such as Mattel Toys, McDonald’s and of course Nike. Fast growth is also being fueled by the expanding international communications industry. New companies need public relations consultation for building an international profile as the marketing manager of VDSL Systems explained when hiring MCC, a prominent British firm. Surprising growth is occurring in emerging markets like Russia as well. The industry is experiencing a wave of mergers and takeovers including the blending of the largest international advertising agencies and the most well established PR firms.
Corporate sponsorships might be classified as an aspect of public relations, although their connections to advertising are also manifest. The Tobacco companies have been particularly creative at using sports event sponsorships in avoiding countries advertising regulations associated with more traditional media. Other prominent examples are Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of European football (soccer) marches or Ford’s, sponsorship of the Australian Open tennis tournament. McDonald’s executed a huge international IMC campaign surrounding its sponsorship of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Included were Olympic themed food promotions packaging and in store signs TV and print ads, and Web chats with superstar athletes such as American basketball player Grant Hill, In addition to the various promotions targeting the 43 million daily customers in their 27,000 restaurants around the world, the firm targeted the athletes themselves. As the official restaurant partner, McDonald’s got to operate seven restaurants in Sydney, including the two serving the Olympic Village, during the three weeks of the Games nearly 1.5 million burgers were served to the athlete’s official’s coaches, media staffers and spectators. Similarly one of the more innovative sponsorship arrangements was Intel’s agreement with the Tour de France to support the official Tour Web site, in 2003. Of course all these aspects of IMC work best when coordinated and reinforced with a consistent advertising campaign the topic.