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The 2014 “Tanked” List: How PR can help 3 businesses surprisingly predicted to fail

By Jason Mudd

If you’re Martha Stewart Living Magazine, Olympus cameras or J.C. Penney, your fortune cookie for 2014 might read, “Big changes at next full moon in 2014, not good,” or, “Hey, you’re on the list of businesses predicted to tank this year.”

24/7 Wall St. published an annual list of businesses that are expected to go bust this year. What is the role of PR in helping to create a successful business, and what can PR do to keep a business from falling off the tracks?

The article considers several major criteria in determining which brands will disappear. This includes declining sales and losses, news from the parent company that the brand is facing termination, bankruptcies, declining market share, customers fleeing en masse and rising overhead costs that will not be regained through higher prices. In more than one of these areas, strong, smart PR can make a serious impact.

So, who might tank in 2014? Here are some snapshots with some suggested solutions:

1. Martha Stewart Living Magazine is on the 24/7 list to tank. In one year, the magazine’s publishing revenue dropped from $179.1 million to $122.5 million. The number of advertising pages in the magazine has declined from 1,300 to 766. The best articles in the world won’t keep a publication afloat if there is nobody buying advertising.

Another publication expected to close its doors in 2014 is Road & Track. The magazine has been around since the late 1940s and has been a top brand for many years. However, there are too many competitors in the industry, which now includes websites. Like Martha Stewart’s magazine, advertising at Road & Track has dropped considerably in the last few years.

Solution: Publications that have moved online still offer the same quality content, but at a reduced overhead. The move from a physical magazine to an e-zine could carry some criticism, so in the process, a public relations campaign should be one that touts the quality of the content readers will get online and the ease of readability. Public relations professionals working with Road & Track could consider a campaign focused on the pluses of a merger with the company’s other magazine, Car & Driver.

Those working with Martha Stewart could emphasize and demonstrate how easy it will be for readers to select, pin and save their favorite ideas and images into their electronic reading devices for revisiting later. This is much more convenient than finding old printed magazine clips. Better yet: Both publications could announce a new relationship with Kindle or other similar sources and show how they’re anticipating their readers’ needs in a modern age.

2. Olympus saw, in one year, sales of its compact digital cameras go from 5.1 million to 2.7 million units sold across the globe. Sony, Nikon and Canon currently rule the compact digital camera market. Olympus has had three straight years of earning no profits in this market. The increasingly better quality of the cameras embedded in smartphones is part of the reason Olympus is seeing such a decline.

Solution: repositioning. As Olympus moves to phase out its compact products, PR professionals should boost the attention of the public toward Olympus’s SLR line, high-end products that are attractive to above-the-norm consumer photographers. A new message campaign focused on the “greats” in the photo world and on historically amazing photos or photographers could emphasize that true photographers can’t text with or speak into their cameras; instead, the camera does all the talking with the quality it produces. Kicking this off with news about an exciting twist on a photo contest could be the entry point.

3. J.C. Penney is in trouble: Bringing a CEO with a past rooted in technology companies didn’t help this largely brick-and-mortar retailer. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. hired Ron Johnson, a former Apple retail chief, to head the retailer in 2011. The company’s revenue promptly plummeted by almost $5 billion by 2013. It’s widely believed that the changes Johnson made were to blame. Perhaps J.C. Penney will never recover. The brand is definitely tarnished and the writers at 24/7 don’t see a solid comeback for this company in its current form.

Any hope of a resurrection will utilize smart PR to return to the brand’s roots: quality items for America at less-than-major-department-store prices, and a strong emphasis on its willingness to really ask and listen to what its shoppers want. In fact, J.C. Penney could hop alongside the message tide about fellow entrepreneurial Missourian Walt Disney, who was of a similar origin and era as Missourian J.C. Penney. Part of Walt Disney’s story has been released in a new movie starring Tom Hanks, called Saving Mr. Banks. Now might be a good time to draw attention to the great return of J.C. Penney to its origins and have the best Founder’s Day sale ever.

A last note: Any brand predicted to tank in 2014 should not go quietly into the great abyss. Now’s the time to stand up and shout out about what’s great about its story and its future across multiple PR channels. Now’s the time to use this moment in the spotlight as an opportunity to hone in on the attention and turn it into something productive.

Not sure what your company’s fortune says for 2014? Contact Axia Public Relations for ideas and strategies that will announce your news in a forward-thinking framework of confidence. May the next full moon bring you a strong tide of positive earned news coverage.

Mudd_Jason_Color_hi_res_forward_crop– Jason Mudd, APR, is the CEO of Axia Public Relations and an Emmy-Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national brands such as American Airlines, Dave & Buster’s, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles, Verizon and emerging brands like Brightway Insurance, Pragmatic Works and It Works! Global.

Topics: public relations

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