On March 30th, Stacy Smith visited our PR class to discuss our part in promoting the documentary Hot Coffee for an on-campus screening. She began by asking our thoughts on the McDonald’s case, where Stella Steinbeck sued the company after spilling their extremely hot coffee on her lap. Some were aware of the early 90’s case, while others were not. However, one thing was common: we all thought the woman’s case was ridiculous. That is until we previewed the documentary.
The documentary showed something the media had not- severe, third degree burns on Steinbeck’s body. After seeing the horrifying images, the class gasped in shock that our presumptions were completely wrong. Steinbeck was not a crazy, old lady just looking for money. She was a victim of a horrible incident with expensive medical bills.
After ten minutes of the film, Smith turned off the TV and explained what we had just seen. Steinbeck’s case was overlooked and ridiculed due to “astro-turfing.” Astro-turfing is the practice of spreading false ideas and images of people or companies to promote political ideas.
Steinbeck’s case was turned into a joke due to astro-turfing, which is why Hot Coffee was created: to shed light on a problem. The documentary’s main focus was tort reform and how it makes it more difficult for ordinary people to sue large companies.
The documentary of Steinbeck’s story motivated our class to give our PR campaign our best efforts. We reached all available media outlets on campus, such as, the Crimson, the Samford radio station, and the TV station. We also had posters printed to post in visible areas on campus. Additionally, I created a Facebook event and invited 300+ students to the screening. Although many students declined the invitation, I had posted the film’s trailer on the wall, so hopefully some students were enlightened without attending the event.
I was very moved by Hot Coffee, and I now very interested in tort reform and cases similar to Steinbeck’s. I enjoyed hearing from Smith, and I feel like the class gained a lot of great PR experience through our campaign.