Public relations for Hot Coffee: A review

The documentary Hot Coffee highlights the story of Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants, a court case in 1994 where a woman received $2.7 million in punitive damages after burning herself on McDonald’s coffee. After introducing viewers to the Liebeck case, the film discusses the tort reform that followed the case. 

Dr. Martin’s Principles of Public Relations class was given the task of helping promote a viewing of Hot Coffee at Samford’s Cumberland School of Law. The public relations campaign took several directions: flyers and print advertising, print journalism, social media, and word of mouth.

First, the campaign made use of one of the most commons forms of advertising at Samford: flyers. Despite its common use, flyers are often an effective way to get the word out about an event. Additionally, students made table-top flyers to set on tables in the Food Court and Caf. From a student’s perspective, these table-top flyers are especially effective because of the number of people that see and read them every day.

Second, Leslyn Bantley wrote a story about the Hot Coffee event in The Crimson. The Crimson is read by hundreds of students and was an effective way to advertise the event. Students were able to receive more information than was provided on the flyer and learn more about what would take place at the event.

Third, the public relations campaign used social media. A Facebook group was created to advertise the event, and a Twitter hashtag, #hotcoffeeAL, was used to raise awareness about the event. The Twitter hashtag was especially effective. According to a TweetReach report created on April 20, there were 9,110 accounts reached by the hashtag, and 58,082 impressions on Twitter. The Twitter hashtag certainly made an impact in raising awareness about the event.

Finally, one of the most effective forms of public relations was used: word of mouth. Students spoke with professors, peers, and student organizations to promote the event. This priceless form of public relations likely helped boost dialogue and attendance at the event.

The previously mentioned forms of public relations were not the only approaches taken by the class. Countless other forms were used, but the ones mentioned above are those that I believe were the most effective in raising awareness about the event. All in all, the event was a success, with nearly 100 people in attendance. The opportunity to work alongside the public relations team for the event was a great way to gain first-hand knowledge about public relations. I certainly hope that working with real-world public relations becomes a regular part of the course in the future.


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