Fifty Shades of PR

Fifty Shades of PR

Fifty-Gray-posterThe film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey dominated this weekend’s Box Office in a perfect storm of steamy eroticism and Valentine’s Day, which, by the way, is the one day of the year when guys collectively bend to the wills of their better halves – if only as payback for their lavish Super Bowl parties two weeks earlier.

When asked about the meaning of the book’s title, author E. L. James said that she never wanted pass judgment on her main character, Christian Grey, rather she wanted to illustrate the many subtleties of his persona as “shades of grey.”

Not unlike the morally challenged billionaire in the movie, PR is rarely black and white. Brands, like movie protagonists, are living things, subject to change over time, capable of evolving, falling in and out of favor, being respected and reviled for actions taken by a business or individual celebrity. One need only look to the rise and fall of cycling legend Lance Armstrong for a case in point.

PR and the brand image game are all about shades and subtleties resulting from a constant series of pivots directly related to ongoing product innovation, customer experiences, media reviews and fast moving trends.

Take the example of Radio Shack. Once a retail giant with thousands of stores and billions of dollars in revenue, the business behind the iconic brand declared bankruptcy this month after years of financial turmoil. Despite being a haven for computer nerds and tech hobbyists interested in DIY projects for decades, Radio Shack failed to anticipate  how their key demographic wanted to use technology to find and buy technology products. Moreover, the retailer never mounted an effective campaign to answer the Amazons of the world even after it was clear that e-commerce was here to stay. After years of underwhelming shopping innovation and customer experiences tied mainly to bricks-and-mortar locations, Radio Shack finally went under.

Not that Radio Shack’s experience was a PR problem. Far from it. Still, PR must evolve to address the mercurial nature of brands. If Radio Shack had, for instance, struck back against Amazon early and often with a formidable shopping innovation strategy and a customer happiness quota along the lines of Zappos then we wouldn’t be writing the brand’s obituary today. All along Radio Shack’s slow demise were opportunities for PR to assist in supporting a comeback, a spark of innovation here, a tech counterstrike there. But failure at all levels of the organization meant that PR was performing perfunctory services much like the band on the Titanic playing while the ocean liner sank.

PR does provide value for any brand that values integrated feedback from media cognoscenti and customer loyalists. PR can contribute to the fifty shades of brand development by emphasizing the positive, downplaying the negative, fostering thought leadership and even stoking the fires of fandom.

If you want people to fall in love with your brand, then keep your mind (and marketing strategy) open to the potential of fifty shades of PR – there’s nothing kinky about it.

About Dave Manzer: In 2009, Dave Manzer founded Swyft, an Austin PR & digital marketing agency for startups and fast-growth businesses. His team specializes in highly integrated PR & inbound marketing strategies that help B2B tech companies around the world reach their goals in brand awareness and revenue growth. If you have any PR questions about your startup or small biz, feel free to tweet him at @davemanzer or email him at


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