Editorial: PR Gone Wrong

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It's not even the dog days of summer yet and some companies are grasping for anything to hype. Case in point: Valassis Communications issued a press release on the PR Newswire last week, yet it had no new product to tout; no new service to offer; no financial statement to release; not even a warning on an upcoming quarterly statement. Instead, the release began: "Valassis has brought convenience to the world of direct marketing by offering its clients one-stop-shopping for all their marketing needs whether they're in the retail, telecommunications, computers or fast-food business."

Executive vice president Mary Ann Rivers then chimed in with a quote: "Valassis is a true one-stop shop. Our customers are trying to squeeze more time out of each business day. Our service allows them to do that. ... Lots of companies are only able to do one or two parts of the operation in-house and then have to go to a printer or another company to complete the project. ... We have it all under one roof." The company rounded out the release by quoting Rivers some more and detailing its services. It also mentioned where its printing and manufacturing facilities are located and -- don't forget -- its "status as Fortune Magazine's 29th Best Company to Work for in America."

What gives? Does Valassis have a quota to fill with the fee-based PR Newswire? Earlier this month, the company introduced its Shopper Connection product. That's news worth announcing, so it doesn't seem like Valassis is just looking for another headline or two. Here's a tip in getting some media coverage: Don't put out a release that says, "We have nothing new this week, but please write about us anyway." You'll only end up with wary reporters who put every word you say under a microscope. Instead, pick up the telephone and call a journalist ... and feed him some news.

Meanwhile, Abercrombie & Fitch continues to solidify its top spot as the Master of Bad PR with criticism over its decision to sell thong underwear -- with the words "eye candy" and "wink wink" -- to young girls. So far, the company's stance has been a lame statement that the underwear "was created with the intent to be lighthearted and cute. Any misrepresentation of that is purely in the eye of the beholder." This latest blip may be A&F's most damaging if parents have anything to say about it.

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