Communication is a two-way trajectory. It means asking questions, listening, and acting where necessary on what you hear. And it isn’t just externally facing—i.e., you and your customers; it’s internal, management to manufacturing, marketing to sales, and so forth, throughout an entire company. L. Ron Hubbard gave the core definition of public relations in his article of 13 August 1970, “Liabilities of PR”:
“PR = public relations, a technique of communication of ideas.”
And in another article, from 1982:
“The definition of PR is: ‘GOOD WORKS WELL PUBLICIZED.’”
One of the most fascinating examples of excellent PR is the history of The LEGO Group,1 the privately held Danish company, founded in 1932, that has been making the beloved LEGO bricks since 1949. The bricks in use today are still compatible with the version released in 1958.
LEGO is an abbreviation for leg godt, meaning “play well” in Danish. And LEGO has played well indeed.
For 2015, LEGO sales were up 25 percent, and the company is now valued at over $7 billion.2
With LEGOLAND parks, hit LEGO-themed movies, tie-ins to Star Wars, Disney and Minecraft, conventions and a documentary (A LEGO Brickumentary),3 The LEGO Group—owned by Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, grandson of LEGO’s founder—is now ranked as the top toy company on the planet, and they do it all with essentially ONE item: the patented LEGO brick.
But go back to 1999 and LEGO was reporting losses, requiring corporate “restructuring,” and laying off a thousand employees. By 2003, the company was looked upon as increasingly irrelevant and on the verge of utter collapse.
So how did they go from nearly extinct to steadily surpassing Nintendo, Hasbro and Mattel?
Mr. Hubbard expanded the definition of PR into several parts in his 18 November 1970 article “PR Definition,” describing its purpose:
“THE INTERPRETATION OF TOP MANAGEMENT POLICY TO THE DIFFERENT PUBLICS OF THE COMPANY . . .”
In 2004, LEGO hired Jørgen Vig Knudstorp as CEO. Knudstorp, who is still the CEO of LEGO, and top management looked at what the company was producing and had the revelation that they had veered significantly off the original vision for the company. They were making toys that required little building and limited creativity, toys that lacked the hallmarks upon which the brand was founded—and they didn’t sell.
The next section of Mr. Hubbard’s expanded description of PR states:
“TO ADVISE TOP MANAGEMENT SO THAT POLICY IF LACKING CAN BE SET . . .”
LEGO tapped into the MINDSTORMS Robotics Invention System. MINDSTORMS, an integration of computer programming and LEGO, had been introduced in 1999 but had not been recognized for its value. By capitalizing on MINDSTORMS, LEGO tapped into an entire culture of creativity from the users of LEGO (adults and kids alike). From a PR angle, LEGO communicated, listened, and acted upon what it learned from some of its most ardent public.
By opening its communication channels, LEGO opened the floodgates of creativity—all in keeping with its basic purpose and culture.
At the LEGO headquarters in Billund, Denmark, the designs for new LEGO sets were made to conform to the company philosophy that each set integrate into a larger story or narrative.
Over in a different department, it’s “anything goes” for those known as the Master Builders, who can custom-order any shaped piece they wish.
Continuing his PR definition, Mr. Hubbard describes the third aspect of PR:
“TO MAKE THE COMPANY, ITS ACTIONS OR PRODUCTS KNOWN, ACCEPTED AND UNDERSTOOD BY THE DIFFERENT PUBLICS . . .”
LEGO has had the good fortune of a subculture developing entirely on its own, with a little help from the Internet. The company has embraced this fully with conventions like Brickworld, BrickCon and BrickFair, held globally and attended by thousands. There are elaborate LEGO displays in malls everywhere, including a massive installation at Mall of America.
LEGO commissioned the largest LEGO model ever—a life-size Star Wars X-Wing fighter, weighing in at 23 tons and made of 5.3 million bricks; it took 32 Master Builders 17,000 man-hours to construct it, and it landed at Times Square.4
The LEGO ARCHITECTURE line was designed independently by an architect and brought into the LEGO universe, while CUUSOO, originated in Japan, is a platform where anyone can submit their designs, have a chance to get them manufactured, and even reap a percentage of the profits.
The final component of PR is given by Mr. Hubbard in his 1970 article:
“. . . AND TO ASSIST THE COMPANY TO EXIST IN A FAVORABLE OPERATING CLIMATE SO THAT IT CAN EXPAND, PROSPER AND BE VIABLE.”
Named “Toy of the Century” twice, reinvented countless times, the one constant is the LEGO brick and its infinite potential for creativity. In fact, a professor of mathematics in Denmark calculated that six basic LEGO bricks have 915,103,765 possible configurations. There are 100 LEGO bricks for each of the 7.5 billon people on Earth, with 100,000 bricks produced every single minute.
Vocal fans of LEGO include musician Ed Sheeran and NBA player Dwight Howard. Meanwhile, The LEGO Group partnered with UNICEF to protect children’s rights and build new paths for education and ingenuity.
With knowledge, expertise and imagination, you can use the technology of PR to build your company into a global force, soaring to the stars and beyond.
- “The LEGO Group History.” The LEGO History—The LEGO Group—About Us. lego.com. N.p., n.d. Web. December 8, 2016.
- #86 Lego Group.” Forbes. May 2016. www.forbes.com/companies/lego-group/. Web. December 8, 2016.
- LEGO Brickumentary 2014 720p BRRip. N.p. www.youtube.com. August 6, 2016.
- atercutter, Angela. “This 23-ton, 5.3-million-brick X-Wing is the biggest Lego model ever.” Wired. Culture. May 23, 2013. Web. December 8, 2016.
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