The Best PR: Story of the Airline King

I attended the leadership assembly for the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) this week as a delegate for my local St. Louis chapter. An interesting discussion ensued among members about the difference between Public Relations and communications. Many PR professionals feel like their work is distinctly different from communications, although the general public would most likely see the terms as interchangable.

This got me thinking… what exactly is PR? Do we all have a different idea of what it means to influence our publics?

On the way home from the conference, my friend and I got on a Southwest Airlines plane to go home. As we walked on the plane, we noticed a King of Hearts graphic that looked like it had been ripped out of a magazine taped on the wall near where the attendants stand. My friend and I both noticed it.

A few minutes after the plane took off, my friend leaned over to me and said, “That what the king was about!”

“What?” I responded.

She gestured to the passenger in front of us, who was reading a USA Today. A huge graphic on the newspaper showed Southwest as the king of the airlines.

We looked at each other and said, “Wow, that’s cool.”

No one made the these Southwest airlines employees proudly display their status as king. They ripped it out of the newspaper and taped it there because they were proud of their company. And we were glad to be on a plane with happy employees. I gained a new respect (and loyalty) for Southwest Airlines that day. No ad, press release or media relations effort would have made Southwest’s employees react this way. It was the best PR… however, this opportunity to feel and show company pride came as a result of Southwest having a hardworking PR staff, I’m sure. Southwest wouldn’t have gotten that kind of press had their staff not worked well with the media.

The best PR comes from doing good and then having someone who can share it with the world.

So I guess this is why we’re particular when we choose clients to work with; we need to first find a company who’s doing something good before we can help them share it with the world.

P.S. By the way, it’s interesting to note the reason I was on Southwest is because I’ve always had good experiences, and I felt dissed by American after they deleted all my hard-earned frequent flier miles after only 18 months without a flight.


Sonia is the marketing strategist & word geek for NeuConcept.