Episode Transcript – The Best PR Campaign that Changed the World

Stories and Strategies Podcast

Episode 91

Guest: Anne Gregory, Ph.D., BA, FRSA, HonFCIPR, Huddersfield University

Published June 11, 2023

Listen to this episode

Doug Downs (00:02):

Over the course of the last 75 years, there have been moments that changed each of our lives today. When Dr. Martin Luther King shared his dream,

Dr Martin Luther King (00:12):

I have a dream. My four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream to be.

Doug Downs (00:30):

When Rosa Parks said “No.”

Rosa Parks (00:33):

He asked me if I was going to stand up. I told him, no I’m not. And he said, well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have you call the policeman and have you arrested. I say, you may do that

Doug Downs (00:43):

When 20 million people participated in the first Earth Day.

CBC Announcer (00:48):

This is a CBS News special Earth Day. A question of survival with CBS News correspondent Walter Cronkite.

Walter Cronkite (00:59):

Good evening. A unique day in American history is ending a day set aside for a nationwide outpouring of mankind seeking its own survival Earth Day, a day dedicated to enlisting all the citizens of a bountiful country in a common cause of saving life from the deadly byproducts of that

Doug Downs (01:18):

When Steve Jobs introduced us to a new device, one you have today, one you’re probably using right now,

Steve Jobs (01:26):

An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator, an iPod, a phone. Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. This is one device

Doug Downs (01:54):

Today on Stories and Strategies. We sometimes describe these as moments in time, but really they were the beginnings, of course shifts in global society, momentum. They were the greatest of PR campaigns, but which one is the best of them all?


My name is Doug Downs. My guest this week is Anne Gregory. It is great to have you back, Anne, I think third time on the podcast.

Anne Gregory (02:34):

Well, it’s great to be back and I’m a bit like a bad habit to keep coming back.

Doug Downs (02:38):

Oh, you are welcome back anytime. I love these episodes. You’re joining today again from Huddersfield in the UK, which it’s in West Yorkshire, but it’s kind of sandwiched geographically between Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. How are things there?

Anne Gregory (02:53):

Yeah, pretty good. I mean, you probably know if you’re a football fan that Manchester City are up for the triple this next weekend. So things are buzzing around here, Doug,

Doug Downs (03:04):

And being between Leeds and Sheffield as well, you can just change your allegiances any which way you want. Depends on who’s winning at the time, right?

Anne Gregory (03:11):

Yeah. I’ve always got a winner somewhere

Doug Downs (03:15):

Anne I can’t possibly read all your credentials. So this is a very abbreviated form. You’re a board member with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, C I P R, professor Emeritus of Corporate Communication at the University of Huddersfield. You teach executive education programs for the UK government. You’re an adjunct professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia, the London School of Public Relations in Jakarta, Indonesia, a visiting professor at the University of Navarra in both Spain and Johannesburg and the University of Technology in Australia. And you directed the Global Capability Framework, which has been adopted by professional associations worldwide. And we did an episode on that a couple of years ago. So always great to have you back. And I know you detest the listing of all the credentials. It’s something you’re uncomfortable with, aren’t you?

Anne Gregory (04:04):

Yeah, because Doug, it can sometimes be a separate, I’m only an ordinary Jo, okay? I happen to have stumbled across some great things and had some great opportunities in life, but I don’t want all those handles to be a barrier between me and the folks on the podcast and yourself because I’m like you. And sometimes it creates a bit of a barrier.

Doug Downs (04:26):

I hear ya. And you’re great at responding, your Twitter address is listed in the show notes. You’re great at responding to people and this idea to capture the greatest PR campaign of them all, a bit ambitious. But what sparked this and the call to action here is that people listening can vote on what they think is the best campaign of them all.

Anne Gregory (04:48):

So it it’s the Chartered Institute’s 75th anniversary this year, Doug and our president this year, Steve Shepperson Smith, his theme for the year is the Societal Impact of Public Relations. We often talk about the impact that public relations has for organizations, but this is about society. So it seems that it would be a good idea to look at the societal impact of public relations across the decades. So what we’ve done is to get a group of fantastically expert judges to take a decade each and to pick their campaign for that decade that just changed the world. And now we’re going to put it to a public vote. I mean, everyone’s a winner, absolutely. Look, I mean these are all fantastic campaigns. In a way, I suppose it seems a bit naft to say, well let’s pick one. But there are some of these campaigns that really have change the world and we would like the people who listen to you and it’s a public vote. Anybody can vote to pick the campaign that they think has made the seminal difference across seven and a half decades that the Public relations institute here in the UK has been in existence.

Doug Downs (06:03):

The joy is in the exercise, not so much the result here, but the result is fun.

Anne Gregory (06:07):

That’s right.

Doug Downs (06:07):

So let’s go through the one by one that’s right, one for each decade. And you went back to 1948 through 1959 for the first one, Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. We’ve all heard about the moment. We always hear about the moment. Tell us about the campaign.

Anne Gregory (06:23):

Okay, well we need to thank John Harrington, who’s the editor of PR week for selecting this one. The decade that he looked at was at the late, well from 1948 to 1959. And he picked this moment, which was really one of the kickoff moments for the US Civil Rights campaign in the us and it’s became come really a blueprint for modern protest movements in that country and across a world as well. So the campaign was about more than PR as we know it wanted to change legislation, but there were many ingredients to this at its heart though was a simple and single gesture. Rosa Parks refusing to give up her bus seat for a white person and it sort of symbolizing injustice that was going on in the US and started a civil rights movement. They is still continuing today actually, Doug. And so we sort of think, well that was also an impromptu action by Rosa Parts, but it wasn’t.

Doug Downs (07:29):


Anne Gregory (07:29):

It’s interesting that some background to this bus boycott and there’s an organization in Montgomery, Alabama where Rosa Parks lived called the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the N A A C P. And they’d been thinking about how they could mount a protest about the segregation on buses for some time, and they’d actually thought that they might back a campaign fronted by Yourman woman called Claudette Colvin. And she was the first person to refuse to give up her seat on the Alabama buses. But the president of the association found out that Claudette unfortunately was pregnant. She was 15 and she was single. So they asked her being the front to that campaign. Oh, Rosa Parks came along and the reason that they partly acted it as well was Doug, they wanted the church to get behind this. And they thought that right poor old Clat would not be the right person to front this campaign. She’s single. Oh, pregnant.

Doug Downs (08:40):


Anne Gregory (08:41):

So Rosa did actually spontaneously do this act of refusing to give up her seat, but the president then of the association went association went to her and said, can we use this to spark this campaign that we had in mind? And she agreed. And the purpose of the campaign was to really put financial pressure on decision makers in Montgomery so that they will change their ways and allow black people to not be segregated on buses anymore. And the challenge was for the black people of Montgomery to be able to participate in the campaign because we were very dependent on the buses. So they had to convince black business owners and taxi drivers to provide alternative services to make this boycott possible. And they did that through contact and all sorts of local, very local one-to-one campaigning. But they also brought in a strong communicator. You might have heard about him. He is a guy called Martin Luther King, and he also began his civil rights work partly through this campaign. So what happened, 20,000 black passengers boycotted the buses in Montgomery, Alabama for 381 days.

Doug Downs (10:10):

Wow. Yeah.

Anne Gregory (10:11):

And the upshot was that campaign was a success. And in 1956 the Supreme Court struck down Alabama’s segregation bust laws. And this is really the power of a single act and a symbolic act. Doug, I think it’s an amazing campaign. Really grateful to John for bringing this to our attention.

Doug Downs (10:32):

And Dr. King is a big part of the second campaign in your program, the 1960s civil rights movement in the us.

Anne Gregory (10:40):

Yeah. So this is almost like a continuum here because the next campaign was picked by Alex Aiken, who’s the executive director of government communications here in the UK. What can we say about campaign? I guess the 1963 speech of I Have A Dream is one of those iconic speeches that everybody remembers and one of the iconic speeches of the 20th century really the 1960s were a time of change. The civil rights movement was making some progress and really the activities in the 1960s generated some huge change. So there was a Civil Rights Movement acts, which was enacted in 1964, voting rights in 1965, fair Housing in 1968. So this was a decade when the shift happened, and that was due really to the immense bravery of people like Martin Luther King and his colleagues who left a legacy for future generations to follow. And it came after things like Rosa Parks and the Freedom Rise and the Birmingham campaigns.


And I love what Martin Luther King said about public relations himself. To quote him, public relations is a very necessary part of any protests of civil disobedience. And so it was amazing. Really the focus was mainly on mass protest movements over that decade galvanizing public response and support. And the psychology is so smart, Doug, and they knew that these mass peaceful campaigns would generate a violent reaction from the police. They just knew that. And therefore they were then waiting for the response to that violence. And they picked locations and they picked events which were going to stimulate a lot of media in interests and be able to generate opportunities for them to make their case. And they wanted to put pressure on the private sector to kind of discrimination through other campaigns like Operation Bread Basket. But these marches really were at the heart of it, and they knew that if they indulged in any violence, it would stimulate opposition and make legislation really quite difficult. So these were rigidly disciplined campaigns dog, even the placement of people, what they could take to the marches was all strictly monitored. And these sort of marches in these iconic public places were the perfect setting really for speeches made by the likes of Martin Luther King to engage with these large crowds and with the media being present, what an opportunity and they took it fully.

Doug Downs (13:55):

Those first two are absolutely brilliant and changed society that we know today.

Anne Gregory (14:00):

Absolutely. Yeah.

Doug Downs (14:02):

Campaign number three from the seventies, the 1970s Earth Day. The first Earth Day.

Anne Gregory (14:09):

So our judge here was Solitaire Townsend was the co-founder of Futerra, which is a think tank about the future. And environmentalism is right at the heart of the work that they do. So the originator of the original and the first Earth Day was a guy called Gaylord Nelson, who was an American senator, and he delivered a series of lectures to raise public consciousness. He was very personally really affected by the Vietnam protests, but he knew that they had to do something different here. So rather than sort of campaigning in the vogue of the American protest against Vietnam, he wanted to distinguish Earth Day really as an educational opportunity. And they engaged very much with educational institutes. He wanted to be, and he wanted to capture a really broad base of support. So again, really cute, you know, don’t do that by always being in people’s faces.


So this was almost a quiet campaign, Doug, but it was profound looking at all the institutions in the states that have influence education and really cleverly getting sort of collaboration across the political divide. We know US politics is pretty bipartisan, but the co-chair of this Earth Day was a Republican senator. So we got both sides to support this. And he did use a level of provocation, provocative slogans like the beginning of the end of pollution and really garish t-shirts and things like that. But he encouraged participation. He got stickers and sort of buttons that people could put in their lapels and really stimulated a broad base of support and trying to use also some of the environmental disasters like the Santa Barbara oil spill to strengthen the narrative that they develop was developing about the urgency of this and central to the Earth Day was this should be a grassroots campaign bottom up. This was not going to be led by senators. This was about the people recognizing an existential threat. But the result, 20 million Americans participated in more than 10,000 events across the country on that first Earth Day. That is absolutely, that’s

Doug Downs (16:57):

Great participation, just

Anne Gregory (16:58):

Speech, really. Oh, absolutely. That’s the power of the grassroots when they get stimulated, Doug.

Doug Downs (17:04):

Yep. We do want a voice. The fourth campaign, the eighties, can’t think of the eighties without thinking of AIDS and what happened. Oh, so 1980s AIDS activism is the campaign

Anne Gregory (17:17):

And we’re grateful to Dan Tisch, who’s a Canadian, who was our judge for the 1980s, is the president of our guile communication and former chair of the Global Alliance. And you’re right, Doug, I mean you and I of a certain age, and we remember how big the AIDS crisis was, 10 million people infected and we’ve, we forget, I mean we’ve just been through a pandemic. Wasn’t quite a pandemic, but it was all but 10 million people are affected. And the stigma around being gay at that time as well, it was known as the gay disease. So this was a profound campaign to change really the social construction, if you like, of illness. And the whole community and at the time was truly revolutionary. It doesn’t matter who you are, you have a right to healthcare. And it wasn’t just that there were change in public attitudes, Doug, they also really activated the sort of modern approach to medicine.


The tradition to date had been that you tried drugs with small number of people, extensive testing of that, and they wanted drugs to be available to hundreds of thousands of people all at once. And they change the way that the drug testing regime was influenced, particularly in the us. And they wanted to change government policy as well as the clinical trial policy at the time. And what they did was to try and get in the front of some people whose who were really impactful. So civic institutions, big civic institutions, big corporations, they interrupted annual general meetings, they closed down the food and drug organization for goodness say Doug, and really we’re in the front of picking almost iconic occasions. So, which they in effect flash mobbed to say there is an agenda here that you have to pay attention to. So they knew that media coverage would be almost a natural following this, a really disruptive nature of the campaigning. And I remember, I’m a Brit, you probably can’t tell that from my actual, but I remember Princess Diana drinking from the cup of somebody who had AIDS and the impact

Doug Downs (20:00):

Hugs that had hugs, I remember that as well. Sharing hugs. It

Anne Gregory (20:03):

Was just, it was so imaginative. And they forced the F D A to approve new jobs. They forced the farmer industry to give lower prices for essential drugs. And they brought public awareness to this issue in a really stunning way. And they prove that you can’t just put difficult issues in a box if this affects communities, that they will find a way to actually force their issue to an agenda. And this was one of the first times a big farmer government had been confronted in such a way, an amazing campaign. Yeah, absolutely changed our whole attitude too. And you can see almost the genesis of what we did in Covid, right back to that

Doug Downs (20:51):

With the vaccination. Yes,

Anne Gregory (20:52):

That’s right. That’s right. Yeah,

Doug Downs (20:54):

Absolutely. I was thinking that campaign from the nineties that was chosen, Virgin Atlantic versus British Airways put in a simpler form David versus Goliath at the time.

Anne Gregory (21:06):

Absolutely. And again, grateful to our judge Mark Borkowski of Borkowski PR here in the UK. It is a UK campaign. So you say, well why did that change the world? Well, it’s very different campaign from the ones that we’ve thought about up to now, Doug. But this is really about mass consumerism. And we know that really in the 1990s there was a step change in mass consumerism and the democratization of consumerism, the democratization of travel. There’d been attempts to democratize that and make it open to the masses before. But this was a campaign that really triggered some of that. And at heart of this was really a data dirty tricks campaign. And Virgin Atlantic had been subjected by British Airways to a vociferous opposition campaign, the rich and the powerful, the traditional airline industry. And what they found out when they went to court over suspected dirty tricks was that virgin passengers had been approached because BA had actually hacked into the Virgin systems and got passenger names. They’d actually been approaching Virgin staff to try and suborn them. Wow. Yeah, it was really a historic lawsuit. And they’ve been sabotaging bookings by saying, oh, there are all sorts of technical difficulties. You better come to BA and be safe. Virgin are not reliable. Anyway, Branson won a huge amount of money from BA because for this campaign. And the brilliant thing was he didn’t keep it. He gave it to his staff as a Christmas bonus,

Doug Downs (23:05):

All of

Anne Gregory (23:05):

It went to his staff as a Christmas bonus. That’s great. As a result of the work of Branson and the likes of British Airways, we opened up, traveled to the world for the ordinary man and woman now might say, and they in lies the problem. That’s why we face the environmental problems that we do. But these campaigns are of their age. And this was a consumer campaign of all consumer campaigns and that’s why Mark has chosen it. And we can’t just go for all the worthy stuff. We have to say that was something that changed the world. Whether it changed it for and bad is your opinion, but it did change the world.

Doug Downs (23:48):

And another one’s the campaign from the two thousands and the launch of the iPhone and Steve Jobs. And I mean, if we’re all being truthful, most of us are on, if not an iPhone right now as we’re listening to this podcast. We’re on an Android phone, we’re on some kind of mobile device for the most part. Yeah, huge campaign.

Anne Gregory (24:08):

Absolutely. And we’ve got Preta KamelKemal Garni to thank for this. Preta is actually based in Indonesia, and she’s the founder and chief executive of L S P R Communication and the Business Institute. And she picked this one because this, it’s another consumer product, but it really has changed society. Our very relationship with technology was changed through this, wasn’t it? Dark and portable technology is now an integral part of the way that we live our lives. And it had a significant cultural impact, not just on technology, but right down to the roots of the way that we look at ourselves in the world now and how we view the world. It’s through one of these devices. So it was a triumph for Apple marked the turning point really in the mobile phone industry. I dunno if you’ll remember a phone call, Nokia

Doug Downs (25:13):

Nokia absolutely

Anne Gregory (25:15):

Nokia, absolutely dominant, right up to the mid two thousands. And Forbes, it was who said, who could ever challenge Nokia’s 1 billion customers? And along came Steve Jobs

Doug Downs (25:30):

And how that diver spread out. So from the podcast industry perspective podcast, which are now booming here in 2023, that may not have happened, if not for the mobile phones. It’s a direct result of us being more mobile

Anne Gregory (25:46):

And the sort of intuitive nature of the technology, the touch screen and the tactics that they used to launch the iPhone as well. A dog sort of a tease campaign, but also Steve Jobs himself, you know, remember the man in black, wasn’t he against a black background showing this little phone? Well, why is that so special? And then bang, it arrived. Yeah. And literally within a few years it had taken over the world. So

Doug Downs (26:23):

The 2010s, and now we’re sort of moving into the era where we haven’t had enough distance in time to have a full of appreciation of how this has shifted the world. But it certainly did from the 2010s, the Paris Accord on climate change.

Anne Gregory (26:40):

So Winnie D’Eath from WWF International has picked this one forward us, and it really was a landmark agreement. So I, we’ve talked about Earth Day and there been sort of momentum building, Doug, about activity on climate change. And there was sort of general, there’s still the skeptics about, but there was basically a public opinion had shifted, right? Towards recognizing that we got a real problem here. The challenge was you got to get the politicians to move because there’s a lot of national invested interest, a bit from big industry as well, which has national connections to move on this. And we know some of the dirty tricks that was got up to buy some of the oil industry giants to try and the information that was coming out on climate change. So COP 21 2015 was the seminal moment about political agreement on climate change.


The talk had to stop and the political action had to start. So there was a whole sort of years campaign before COP 21 occurred, whether it got Earth Hour in March, earth Day in April, there was a climate action network coordinating 18,000 non non-governmental organizations prompting dozens of events across the world. And just before Cop a huge global climate March took place on November the 29th across the world to pro protest and to make the politicians listen to the fact that population of the world knew there was a problem here. And if you remember back in 2015, just before Cop 21, the battle clam massacre had happened in Paris. So the mass march in Paris had been canceled. And a brilliant PR moment when Pope Francis and Ban Ki-Moon among hundreds of others donated 10,000 pairs of shoes in an installation representing the march that would’ve happened in Paris. Right? Yeah. It’s just brilliant

Doug Downs (29:13):

Key underlying thread to all of these is mass group participation enabling people to get involved and express their voice. So really good. Yeah. The 2020s is the seventh one. And how can the 2020s will be captured in the imagination forever in history for covid, the need to get vaccinated is the campaign.

Anne Gregory (29:37):

Yeah. So Chris Hopson, who’s the chief strategy officer for our national health service, England chose this one to be fair to Chris because he wondered if this might look a bit like self-interest, but we a asked him to judge the period 2020 to 2023. So I think this was the standout thing, wasn’t it? Yeah. Oh yeah. And he’s broadened this much more into the world campaign on vaccination. It’s not localized it to the UK. So COVID 19, the biggest public health risk in a hundred years successful vaccination campaigns had to be delivered at speed. And they’ve been absolutely central to cutting the levels of death and serious illness. If you think about the scale of the challenge dog, every health system had to build awareness of the need for VA vaccination quickly. They had to overcome vaccine hesitancy. They had to combat aggressive disinformation campaigns.


They had to support their populations to come forward at the right time in the right order, depending on your age and your vulnerabilities. And globally, this involved a huge range of communication activity, national campaigns, to reassure people about the efficacy of vaccines and local campaigns, right down to grassroots local campaigns, letting, letting people know exactly where they’re to go to get vaccinated. And underpinning this really has been this amazing partnership between pharmaceutical industry to develop the drugs national health system. There’s their staff, millions of volunteers worldwide, non-governmental organizations like the World Health Organization, national governments, and the stats, Doug, they’re just blow me away. In less than a thousand days, three 13 billion covid vaccine donations, dose doses have been administered globally. So 13 billion vaccine do doses. 70% of the world’s population has got at least one dose. 20 million lives have been saved. It is just stunning. And you think of the scale of this, the world population. Not everybody’s being vaccinated, nobody says that. But just the scale of that achievement, 70% of the world population vaccinated. And I, I’m mindful of a quote that one of our health communicators said in the UK as the pandemic was proceeding, the only thing that protected the population vaccines was communication. And it strikes me that communications was the only way to get people vaccinated as well. So if you think about the role of communication in this pandemic, it’s just been outstanding,

Doug Downs (32:55):

Doug, absolutely. When it comes to choosing, and each one of us can click on the link in the show notes and place our vote for what we think is the greatest campaign of them all. But when it comes to choosing, I mean, I love my iPhone, but when I compare my iPhone to the importance of Rosa Parks or Dr. King, I can’t compare. But that’s not the point, right? We’re, when we’re picking the campaign, we need to separate the campaign from perhaps the cause, so to speak.

Anne Gregory (33:25):

Yeah. They’re all the best. And it is a bit apples and pears, isn’t it? What we’re going to choose here, Doug. Yeah, I gue I guess what I’d say, maybe we’ll reverse that question and we say, well, what would’ve happened if any of those campaigns hadn’t have taken place? They all changed the world in very different ways. More important thing to ask yourself is think the way they shape society. Now, you might not be a big fan of consumerism, but that’s society we, that’s the society we live in. So these were all huge campaigns

Doug Downs (34:08):

Or a big fan of vaccinations maybe. Absolutely. Because absolutely. That’s still controversial. But the point is there are hundreds of millions who want the vaccinations and they were accessible. Yes. That’s

Anne Gregory (34:19):

The point. So what’s the most powerful shaper of society out of all these campaigns? Well, that’s the question. What shaped society more? Not did I do I like it the most.

Doug Downs (34:32):

And you are welcome on this podcast anytime. I love spending time with you. So I hope we chat soon again. Thank you.

Anne Gregory (34:40):

Well, thank you very much indeed, Doug. And please get out and vote folks, and the links there. And please, this is so, this is so great. This is such a celebration of our profession. So get down, get voting.

Doug Downs (34:56):

Yep. Pick the top one of the seven, the link is in the show notes. You can if you like. You’ll also send a message to my guest, Anne Gregory. Her email is in the show notes and her handle, her Twitter handle is also there. She’s very responsive. And thanks to C I P R for all its great work here too. A different note to end this episode, as our little podcast has grown globally, it’s amazing to see all the different locations where people are listening. Each episode going forward. I’m going to name a location where I can see from our analytics that not just a small number, but we have a sizable group of people listening. And if you happen to live there, send me an email and we’re going to send you a small gift just to thank you for listening. So this week, by the way, in Huddersfield we have a fairly sizable group of people listening. So I know it’s not just you, Anne, I know it’s bigger than that. So for what role you’ve played, I appreciate that. It’s a

Anne Gregory (35:48):

Good little town, Doug. There’s a lot going on here, so I’m not surprised.

Doug Downs (35:53):

Well, and they’re plugged in. Yes. Yes, they’re plugged in. I appreciate that. So this week, if you are listening in Magnolia, Texas, little Texas town as I can see of just under 3000 people. And if we have a really good listenership that’s based there, send me an email. Let’s say by the end of August, 2023. I can’t make it go on forever. So if you live in Magnolia, Texas, you’re listening to this episode, send me an email, doug@storiesandstrategies.ca We’re going to send you a small gift hoping that you will mention to a friend of yours that you enjoy this podcast. Thanks for listening.