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Minimum wage battle offers opportunities for maximum PR tactics

By Jason Mudd

Arguments over the nation’s minimum wage laws have been ongoing for years. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, and people taking sides on the issue are certainly doing their best to sway the public.

Wal-Mart suffered a public relations nightmare recently when a store in Ohio put out a food collection bin for its own employees. The bin was there for employees to donate food they bought from the store to give to less fortunate employees who couldn’t afford to make their own Thanksgiving dinners. For people working on the side of raising the minimum wage, this proves to be a popular news event to tout in their public relations campaigns.

What are some suggestions for those engaged in the minimum wage wars?

1. Give people more than they expect. Perhaps the best PR tactic companies like McDonalds and Wal-Mart could use would be to pay their employees more than minimum wage. It doesn’t mean they’ve taken a side on the issue; instead, they’re circumventing it altogether and finally quieting their opponents.

2. If you’re sharing the facts for your side, be straightforward and very clear on your reasoning. There is a faction of people who believe corporate giants value profit over people, which seems to be a common message for those working for mandatory increases in wages. According to a report from Labor Notes, the food and beverage industry put around $43 million into fighting an increase in the minimum wage. Its campaign focuses on a message that says raising the minimum wage hurts companies, which in turn hurts the workers (and their families) the most. (The tactic is believed by people on the opposite side to be nothing more than a scare tactic; whatever its purpose, the industry needs to be clear and remain focused on one consistent message.)

Proponents of a higher minimum wage are doing this. Despite their opposition’s statement that small businesses will get hurt the worst, they’re sharing the fact that corporations hire more than 65 percent of all minimum wage workers, which gives them plenty of reasons to oppose raising the minimum.

3. Think ahead about your response plan for what the opposition will say. Put this into a clear PR plan covering social media, blogs and company news announcements. One of the most popular talking points in public relations efforts against raising the minimum wage also defaults to a fear response: Raising the minimum wage will force employers to cut hours and lay off workers. Interestingly, as the proponents of minimum wage hikes like to point out, the biggest companies often boost their profits first by cutting their labor. A NELP report shows that the 50 largest companies using low-wage employees cut raises during the recession and actually gained more profits. This works in the favor of the proponents’ PR campaign because now they can say the corporations aren’t worried about their employees – they’re worried that the executives won’t get their big payouts.

4. Let your response to a tough issue add legitimate value to the discussion. Consider the message that says the minimum wage job is for teenagers who will be motivated to work harder to gain employment in a position that pays more, thus creating a culture of hard workers. The response from the proponents of raising the minimum wage is that, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, 50 percent of the people in minimum wage jobs are 25 or older. (Only 23 percent are 16 to 19 years old.) Be ready with the facts if you’re headed for a back-and-forth about an issue.

5. If you have a message “champion,” or several out there on social media, work with them. Encourage them. Equip them with facts and key message points. Looking ahead into 2014, allowing a message superhero (or several of them) to carry the flag for you is expected to be a very effective strategy for businesses big and small.

Needless to say, some PR message strategies are more effective than others. All must be well-thought-out and well-planned. Smart PR campaigns are based on fact and not fiction. For a strategy that truly adds value to your company’s brand, contact Axia Public Relations. (We aren’t scared of a little message throwdown.)

Mudd_Jason_Color_hi_res_forward_crop– Jason Mudd, APR, is CEO of Axia Public Relations. He is an Emmy-Award-winning accredited public relations practitioner, speaker, author and entrepreneur. His public relations portfolio includes work for established national and emerging brands such as American Airlines, Dave & Buster’s, Brightway Insurance, Florida Blue, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, It Works! Global, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Ray Charles and Verizon. Connect with Jason at @jasonmudd9 and Axia Public Relations at @axiapr. Be sure to tweet and share your thoughts below. We’ll read and respond to each of them.

Topics: public relations, crisis communications

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