Of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, Cheerwine, PR and journalism (plus ‘Star Wars’)

Krispy Kreme and Cheerwine doughnut

The Krispy Kreme and Cheerwine doughnut

John Robinson, editor of the Greensboro News and Record, wondered aloud on Friday where the line exists between promotion and news for journalists.

The occasion was the debut July 1 of the Krispy Kreme doughnut filled with a Cheerwine-flavored creamy filling. Krispy Kreme doughnuts and Cheerwine soda are both North Carolina products, and the match was greeted with a great public-relations campaign that included the delivery of samples to the governor’s office and at least four newsrooms across the state.

Of course, photos and instant reviews flew out on Twitter, followed by blog posts and then “news stories.”

The product debut and the PR campaign showed the synergy that exists between PR people and news organizations, made only stronger these days by limited newsroom resources and the need to find stories that will drive local visits to websites. Still, I’m not sure how much value the story had for print by Friday, except perhaps for investors in Krispy Kreme stock.

At the same time, comments were flying on Charles Apple’s blog about an advertising stunt at the Los Angeles Times, with a faux news layout wrapped around the newspaper, advertising a 3D King Kong ride at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Some comments questioned how the advertisement was that different from the elaborately designed skyboxes or promos on newspaper front pages that mark the opening of some blockbuster movies.

I’ll go out on a limb: How is the Krispy Kreme story or the L.A. Times ad so different than “Star Wars” skybox promos and full-page graphics in a newspaper about a science exhibit in Alabama?

I can feel the vitriol now: How silly to ask. The “Star Wars” work is cool, and it’s about science, and space, and it’s done by the newsroom, or from the newsroom budget with a freelancer. It’s obviously different than a PR-manipulated doughnut story or a faux news layout. (And I respect greatly the people who did the “Star Wars” work.)

But from the marketing perspective, it’s not so different. Coverage is coverage, ink is ink.

What’s different is who does the design and content work, or who makes the decisions on play. In this new era, it’s important for both PR people and journalists to pay attention to new experiments and shifts in roles.

The PR machines still exist, and seem to be recovering from the recession sometimes faster than news outlets. They deluge newsrooms with e-mail these days, instead of faxes. Smart PR people know how to work the newsrooms still.

To deny a symbiotic relationship is naïve.

Still, strong news judgment and discussions and balance are required, lest newsrooms lose any more credibility than they’ve already lost.

In the doughnut caper, a quick, fun story seemed in order. But riding that Cheerwine and Krispy Kreme horse for more than a day or two, in print, could be excessive.

Writing a blog post like this one two days later? It’s smart SEO, or perhaps just naval gazing.

You decide.

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