Public Relations Bounty: $25K for USA Today

If you haven’t heard by now, a company trying to make a new name for itself is offering a sizeable Public Relations bounty to have a product featured by three select publications that have a broad reach, including USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press. The PR bounty ranges from $20,000 to $25,000 for “landing” a featured article.

Can you imagine Philadelphia-based Pine Brothers LLC throat drops on any page of the USA Today as a result?

Pine Brothers Chairman Rider McDowell is clearly an executive with a vision of self agenda over company agenda – and he’s jumping in with a rash of politicized and political CEOs who are attempting to shape earned media outcomes via Public Relations channels in new ways. The strategy probably has a more than a few business leaders cringing or silently egging this chairman on.

This isn’t McDowell’s first foray into media manipulation.

A January Marketwire release quoted McDowell:

“In what they are calling a reaction to CNN’s handling of the recent South Carolina presidential debate, Pine Brothers throat drops are scratching CNN from their list of advertisers in 2012. They cite the choice of CNN moderator John King to open the debate with a question about Newt Gingrich’s sex life, as the incident that turned them off of CNN.

“That John King would squander an opportunity to discuss important issues with a legitimate Presidential candidate, and instead probe into that candidate’s rumored sexual proclivities, is shocking,” said Pine Brothers Chairman Rider McDowell. “The world is in such a precarious state, and the issues facing these candidates so serious, that it is utterly irresponsible to make these elections about anything but the issues.”

“McDowell, a Democrat, had planned significant Pine Brothers advertising on CNN in autumn 2012, but feels a message should be sent to CNN and other media that the public is sick of the negative reporting about Republican or Democratic candidates.”

According to the same release, Pine Brothers throat drops was founded in Philadelphia in 1870, and was recently re-launched nationally. McDowell took over as Chairman in 2010.

McDowell may be saying what a lot of people are thinking when it comes to Public Relations and earned media, but there are consequences for his company and his products.

One: No one likes a media bully, particularly people in media. Daily news coverage is a tough job, barely realized for its challenges but often criticized from the sidelines for its tone and tenor.

Two: Such an offer is bound to result in almost an opposite effect. The three publications he’s singled out mean more scrutiny of any reporter/editor/blogger who brings a product pitch to the table for consideration.

Three: Pandering for a Public Relations bounty is another cheesy way of asking for ideas for free. McDowell tells Bulldog Reporter in an interview that he’s already received 30 some ideas, including those from “former journalists with contacts.” Ethics discussion anyone?

Four: Should an article ultimately appear based on the Public Relations bounty (which is doubtful), a consumer could and should only wonder if it was because of the earned media cash bounty – and not because it is a great product.

The larger fallout perhaps for the industry is McDowell’s telling comment about his real motive here: “The whole idea of the PR Bounty came about because we weren’t getting results from the firms we’d engaged — despite huge promises to the contrary.”

So whether it be media bashing, Public Relations bashing, or any industry in between, we’ll wait to see how Rider McDowell fares.

As he points out: “In America, the sky’s the limit, because of the relative lack of government bureaucracy. Probably in some countries, the idea of the PR Bounty program would be illegal, because it could be perceived as stepping on the toes of the status quo. But that’s where good ideas come from in my opinion, by thinking beyond the status quo — which is America’s strength.’

Shake it up, or shake it down, he’s a man with something to say. Not let’s see if his words get his company to where it needs to be – in sales, customer loyalty and rebuilding the brand.

And remember if you really want to know about the actual product, there is at least this consumer info on the company’s home page: “Naturally flavored. Gluten free. Only 5 calories per drop.” Let’s see where and when those three publications will find newsworthy space for these “softish throat drops.” Perhaps the news rests in the stunt of the bounty.

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