Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Dominant Narrative Begins with Framing the Debate

Among the attorneys we work with regularly, litigators by far have the greatest understanding of what PR is trying to accomplish. Their job is to persuade people, whether those audiences are juries or jurists. Sound familiar?

When we’re called in before a filing, I always ask to speak to the litigation counsel. Horse’s mouth, and all that. One phrase they love is “getting to the courthouse first.”

In a court of law (as I understand it – not a lawyer) the court considers the initiating motion first. The poor sap who gets to the courthouse second has the challenge of first refuting everything that the petitioner said, and then replacing it in the judge’s/jury’s mind with something completely contradictory to the 30 or so pages they’ve just read.

This is why writing is such an important skill for attorneys. It’s also why, after a few hundred years of common law and case law, legal writing became all-but-unintelligible to the rest of us. But I digress.

Still, ceteris paribus, he who gets to the courthouse first usually wins because his case becomes the dominant narrative that must be displaced.

A few weeks ago I commented on the “clean coal” campaign being waged in adverting and media relations. In Ohio, where I live, this is a big deal because coal not only means jobs in mines and mills &c., it generates most of our electricity. With petroleum – and therefore gasoline, heating oil – and natural gas prices going through the roof, “clean coal” seems like a pretty good deal.


Calm down. This isn’t politics. “Clean coal” is a technology, not an energy source.

The phrase (or at least the campaign) was created by some individual who understands the dominant narrative theory. The coal industry has managed to introduce a new term to the debate and now anybody who wants to play has to use their (preferred narrative) term to participate in the conversation.

How can anybody be against “clean” coal? It’s like being against “fluffy” puppies.

Even when they grow up to be Pit Bulls.

Damn, I love this job.

Last evening a major national network (as opposed to those minor ones) ran a story examining the issue. They even had “NASA’s leading expert on global warming” on to refute the claims.

It really doesn’t matter, because Andrews or his interview subjects said “Clean” and “Coal” in the same sentence more than a dozen times.

Are YOU against clean coal?

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