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Top 10 PR fails: How to be a BLM ally and not a newsjacking tool

Published on August 22, 2020

What separates an authentic, purpose-led brand statement on social justice from a public-relations failure? Learn from responses to Black Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter is having a moment—the result of 8 minutes and 46 seconds of stark cruelty. The circumstances of George Floyd’s death have bent the arc of social media toward justice. Marketing and public relations professionals struggle to respond.

The Purpose Report 2020’s consumer survey indicates that there are stronger signifiers of purpose than statements or social media posts, most significantly, donations and direct action.  That will not deter a PR firm that avoids “purpose-washing”—statements or actions that come across as inconsistent, suspicious or political. Here are 10 marketing missteps revealed in the reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement.

10. Being Silent On Issues

“Black lives matter” is a sensitive topic for some people, so many marketing and public relations practitioners tend to stay away. Still, being completely quiet on issues isn’t a good look for large businesses. To be silent rather than enable a movement shows a brand or company’s failure to consider its customers or recognize its corporate social responsibility.

9. BLM clickbait to generate traffic

Boastful, inauthentic claims are a crucial mistake for some firms. On social media, far-fetched claims to generate buzz are just as damaging. At minimum, brands should not amplify false or unreasonable statements.

8. Comparing BLM to other events

A huge mistake by marketers is comparing the pain of those who are racially oppressed to other events—witness the backlash to “all lives matter” statements. The bigger picture is that all Black lives matter. Comparing one’s oppression to another’s diminishes the harm. However, one can vividly compare the Black Lives movements to the civil rights movement.

7. Slowly go silent on BLM

All marketing and PR campaigns have goals, and most marketers won’t stop promoting their topic until they reach their goal. Marketing Black Lives Matter shouldn’t be any different. Continue to show support of a powerful movement and don’t stop until after a change is made.

6. Making vague statements

Marketing is very powerful when done correctly. A critical move by marketers is a creating the perfect headline or advertisements but inserting words that are vaguely said or can potentially upset people is not a way to go and is a big mistake made by marketers.

5. Not tying BLM to brand purpose

Powerful movements create powerful buzz. PR firms oversaturated social media with Black Lives Matter posts to connect clients to an international movement.  Without an authentic reason to support the cause, however,  these statements are  slogans with no meaning.

4. Pandering to African-American clientele

Restaurants and food and beverage brands that post Black Lives Matter messages for the right reasons ultimately are not looking to generate more African-American customers. They’re trying to do the right thing.

3. Failing to conduct research

Beyond avoiding clickbait titles, marketers must research their BLM posts. During the nationwide protests, some marketers based statements and social media posts on early, inaccurate descriptions of the protests, or without reliable sources as evidence. Unsure about the circumstances of Breonna Taylor’s death–or how to spell her name? Look it up.

2. Not being confident in Black Lives Matter posts

As marketers we have to be confident in what we believe in, post and market to users. A mistake marketers make is not facing up to backlash when marketing on BLM issues. Fear of negative reaction is no reason to back off or completely disregard the movement.

1. Targeting or offending a racial group

The goal is to uplift one group and to not shame the next. Personal attacks should stop, and we all should come together for the greater.

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