Smart public relations is good business

In my previous column, we examined some contemporary examples of terrible public relations. This week, we’re going to tip our caps to some examples of brilliant PR.

Let’s start with Alcoa Inc. The Pittsburgh-based company operates an aluminum production plant along the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa.

The Quad-Cities, with its open waters near its locks and dams, is the winter home for thousands of bald eagles. A pair of those eagles built a nest near the top of one of the trees at the Davenport plant. Alcoa seized the moment, hoisting a camera into the tree and creating a web site (, featuring a live feed of the eagles in their nest. A couple of weeks ago, the two eggs in the nest hatched.

Thousands of people are now watching bald eagles bring the fish they snatch from the river to their nest and then feed their eaglets.

The company even gave names to the adult male and female eagles, “Liberty” and “Justice.” The web site also features a daily blog that chronicles the lives of the eagle family.

Mother Nature knocked on the door, and Alcoa answered, presenting a public image that the company is an advocate for the planet. And the goodwill PR came with minimal costs.

Locally, we’re seeing some great PR from WaterStone Bank. To celebrate its 90 years of service, the Wauwatosa bank announced it will donate $90,000 to local charities. Nice. But the genius here is in how that money will be doled out.

The company invited charities to nominate themselves to be eligible for their shares of the loot. The public is voting on which charity is most worthy of a donation. Now, the charities are reaching out to their networks, asking their patrons to vote for them at and at Waterstone Bank’s Twitter and Facebook pages.
In other words, the public is doing the bank’s marketing. Social media indeed.

“As good corporate citizens, it is our responsibility to better our communities in any way that we are able,” said Doug Gordon, president and chief executive officer of WaterStone Bank. “It’s an honor to celebrate our 90th Anniversary by giving back.”

Across town, Milwaukee-based Ron Sonntag Public Relations struck PR gold for one of its clients, Disabled Sports USA of Washington, D.C., a nonprofit that provides numerous sporting events for people with disabilities.
Sonntag oversaw the publicity for one of the organization’s projects, “Three War Amputees Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.” The venture generated publicity from media outlets throughout the world.

“Our client had only $5,000 to spend on the project, so we donated another $5,000 pro bono to make it happen.  So for a fee cost of $5,000 and $1,200 in expenses, the client and project received over $.16 million in coverage – a tremendous return on investment – but the real satisfaction for the three GIs and for us as well was that possibly hundreds and thousands of people with disabilities would be motivated to make their lives better by at least trying new things that they thought might be beyond them,” Sonntag said.

Linking your company to a local charity or a charitable event is a great way to enhance your corporate image – and help the community. Jerry Jendusa at New Berlin-based Emteq Inc. has developed a great model for “adopting” a charity, as his company annually conducts a golf outing to raise funds for the Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) Fund.

The Southeast Wisconsin Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America will celebrate some of the best examples of effective PR at its annual Paragon Awards banquet on May 19 at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. The public is invited.


Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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