Columns 17.6.2017 06:01 am

An Orchid for Hill’s, an Onion for Bell Pottinger

Cape Town's Underdog  Project puts township   kids together with animals to learn how to look after them. Picture supplied.

Cape Town's Underdog Project puts township kids together with animals to learn how to look after them. Picture supplied.

As inspiring as the pet food maker is, the London PR company is nauseating.

When a brand does good for the society in which it operates, it can have powerful positive effects not only on its image, but also on sales.

But I am not going to talk about the recent outpouring of support from business for those affected by the Knysna fires because there are a couple of obvious questions: why only now and why here?

A much more positive involvement of a brand in a worthwhile community project is that of pet food maker Hill’s in the Underdog Project in Cape Town.

It aims to help “at risk” youngsters from deprived communities find something worthwhile in their lives but, at the same time, do something for animal welfare.

So, the Underdog Project puts township kids together with animals. They learn how to look after them – feeding them, exercising them and just plain loving them.

Along the way, they develop more self-respect and the belief that there is more to life than just looking out for yourself. And, as for the dogs, they love it.

Apart from sponsoring food and other inputs for the project, Hill’s worked with SABC’s TV breakfast show Expresso to put together a really heart-warming video about the project. In the glum times in which we live, just watching that is good for the soul.

I quite like the concept of Expresso, because it is doing what I have long advocated media companies do: use “native advertising” or advertorial without compromising on editorial quality or integrity. I say that because the days are long gone of editorial being more than an arm’s length away from commercial operations in media companies.

There is no need for blatant, crass publicity when you’re doing campaigns like this: Hill’s remained in the background and allowed Expresso to tell the story.

The producers have managed to achieve what a lot of others have failed to do in native advertising: position the brand in the background as a facilitator.

With the Underdog Project, Hill’s has done exactly that and maintained authenticity, which is key to this sort of community social responsibility marketing.

So, an Orchid to Hill’s and another to Expresso for showing us how it’s done.

When it comes to public relations, good practitioners should always remain in the background and not become the story themselves.

Bell Pottinger, the London company which put together the infamous “white monopoly capital” campaign on behalf of the Guptas, the Zuma camp and assorted running dogs, have tried unsuccessfully to do that.

But now that their name is out there, it is good to see South Africans of all persuasions cyber-bombing them on their Twitter account.

The company appears to have stopped posting tweets because angry South Africans have been bombarding them with uniformly negative comment over the past few weeks.

The company’s site is still up and running, but one of the senior partners, Victoria Geoghegan (who was instrumental in the “white monopoly capital” campaign), has effectively closed her Twitter feed to outsiders by “protecting” her Tweets, which means you can only post a tweet to her if you are an approved follower.

Heat in the kitchen getting a bit too much for you, Victoria?

The problem is that you are violating one of the basic rules of PR: don’t stick your head above the publicity parapet. And don’t have a social media profile at all.

You get a PR Monopoly Capital Onion for that …

Citizen acting deputy editor Brendan Seery.

Citizen acting deputy editor Brendan Seery.

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