At events like South by Southwest, I try to attend a cross-section of sessions on topics that are not on the agenda at most publishing conferences. On Sunday afternoon, that led me to “Don’t just sell things: Change the world“.
I was encouraged that every seat was taken, even if that meant cozy quarters with complete strangers. After brief introductions, Neil Powell passed out samples of his “information blanket“, a baby-care swaddling cloth as instruction guide he conceived to reduce infant mortality.
Powell was followed by Margaret Keene, a creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi in Los Angeles. She began her presentation with a video that posed a PR challenge: How do you repair the reputation of a car company that had misled its customers about product safety.
The car company, of course, is Toyota, and the PR challenge involved faulty accelerators that had been in question for several years. The solution? Give away some of Toyota’s core technologies to community and nonprofit groups, then document what they do with it.
I like the idea of helping community groups; it resonates. I really don’t like the idea that a company should help community groups because doing so mitigates the damage done by bad business practices.
This bit of a story helps place the “homeless hotspot” story in a context all its own. As Tim Carmody points out in his strongly-word piece on Wired.com, it’s offensive when people recruited for a PR campaign become “billboards for a program that doesn’t care anything at all about them or their future”.
Neil Powell gave up his day job to help spread the information blanket. That’s not just PR.