Unlike paid advertising, public relations firms rely on so-called free media stories and mentions in magazines, newspapers and on radio and television--to get their point across.
To help generate interest, publicists use celebrities, contests and other techniques. As Paul Alvarez, chairman of Ketchum Public Relations, put it: "The trick is to provide the media information they can use, in a format that won't compromise their integrity."
One such effort was the 1983 "Made in America" campaign conceived by Beverly Hills-based Alex Litrov & Associates after eraser-maker Diener Industries of Chatsworth and Anes Electronics, a Marina del Rey auto security firm, asked Litrov to tell retailers that their products were U.S.-made.
The agency could not find a "Made in America" symbol so it staged a nationwide contest among art school students to design one.
After a contest winner was selected, another round of publicity ensued in February, 1983, when the symbol was unveiled at the Los Angeles Museum of Science and Industry. The Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News, USA Today and other papers wrote stories on the symbol, which showed a silhouetted hand forming the "OK" gesture, with a star filling the hole made by the thumb and index finger.
Fanned Publicity Flames
The symbol was offered free to manufacturers. About 225 responded. Rep. Bobbi Fiedler (R-Northridge) fanned the publicity flames still higher when she sent the symbol to all House members.
Although Litrov said the work "hasn't gotten me any business," he said the campaign was "personally satisfying . . . (and) showed what creative public relations work can do."
Such work can have its commercial rewards, too.
Jack Conmy, a spokesman for DuPont Co. in Wilmington, Del., estimates that DuPont got about $50 million worth of free publicity and actually earned a few thousand dollars after helping Pasadena inventor Paul MacCready build the Gossamer Albatross. The ultralight aircraft, made of high-strength plastics manufactured by DuPont, became the first aircraft powered solely by human energy to cross the English Channel in June, 1979.
Dominated the News
"The event just dominated the news," Conmy said. "There were about 140 reporters representing 90 news organizations from Japan, Australia and South America. Even Polish TV was there," Conmy said.
And it didn't stop at that.
The company hired a camera crew to make a documentary about the aircraft, which displayed the DuPont name on its sides. DuPont earned more than $200,000 in broadcast fees from domestic and foreign television stations for use of its trademark. In 1982, Conmy won the prestigious Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America.
"It had everything," Conmy said of the event. "Did we sell more" DuPont Mylar and Kevlar ultralight plastics? Conmy asked rhetorically.
"Of course!" he said. "Can I prove it? No!"