PR Success Story: The Power of Public Relations in Overcoming National Controversy
In what began as a simple plan to promote construction of a Vietnam War memorial in Washington D.C., project fundraisers soon found themselves becoming the source of a dispute that quickly spread across the country. Architecture major Maya Lin's vision of a "rift in the earth" created by a polished black stone wall on which the etched names of the dead or missing would appear, generated as much praise as it did intense opposition. At the center of contention lay disagreement over the chosen design's ability to provide dignity and valor to the memory of the war's fallen servicemen. Now far removed from simply promoting a non-profit fund and its statue, PR experts responsible for the memorial's image instead found themselves in the middle a struggle to find a resolution that would benefit their client as well as the public at large.
For the memorial's design to survive intact, public relations practitioners understood the importance of leveraging the support of high-profile figures. Notable names that joined sides in voicing their approval included First Lady Nancy Reagan, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rocky Blier (a Vietnam veteran) and Hollywood actor Bob Hope. Simultaneously acknowledging the power of compromise, the memorial's PR team also organized assemblies consisting of both supporters and opponents. These meetings would be held under the name "They Served with Honor", so as to remind both sides of their shared desire of awarding veterans with the respect they deserved.
Through their decisive handling of a sensitive issue, those in charge of public relations on behalf of the fund succeeded in maneuvering both sides towards compromise. Not only would Lin's wall design be approved, but it would also be accompanied by three bronze statue soldiers, adding the dignity that opponents had stressed was lacking in the original plan. On top of this momentous achievement, PR experts would be responsible for generating over 5,500 stories that drew national attention to the non-profit fund's plans and aided it in receiving donations from over a quarter of a million people across the U.S. Thanks to the efforts of PR practitioners, memorial officials not only managed to reach their fundraising goals, but also saw their statue go from being an object of disparagement to one of national pride and reflection.