Friday, July 31, 2009

What Does "Clean" Really Mean Anyway?

I keep revisiting this because there are so many lessons to be learned from some very smart people on both sides.

When I started talking about it back in March of 08, I criticized this group for using the language of their opponents and thereby letting them frame the argument. In recent efforts, however, they're employing the time-honored art of verbal jujitsu -- and some cool images -- to take it back.

Oh, hell, just watch:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gates Arguments and Good Cop/Bad Cop

Tonight the long-awaited Beer Summit on American Race Relations is being held at the White House. Where you stand on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates kinda depends on where you sit.

Because after all the discussions, arguments, jokes, whatever ... most already have made up their minds about what happened last week when the Cambridge Police were called to the home of the famous Harvard professor.

There are a couple of dominant narratives at work here:

The Police are Racist!

This is the easy one. Yes, law enforcement professionals tend to struggle with race. Anybody who wants to call me anti-police on that point should duck when they do. Google it if you must. Either way, the experience of African Americans -- and a good many others -- with law enforcement is not the same as mine. I accept that.

Many of those people heard the news of Gates' arrest and immediately understood it ... they knew it ... to be a simple case of racial profiling.

911 Call.
Black man.

Tinker to Evers to Chance.

But there's a counter narrative at work, too.

Just Say "Yes, Sir; No, Sir"

Those are the rules, right? This is what we still tell our kids and our irresponsible friends.

Generally it works for me, too.

No kidding.

No matter what your standing in society, it's easy to imagine yourself being popped for speeding or walking a line after three beers at happy hour. Yeah, bloody cops just trying to make quota, right?

But how many of us has ever been accused or even questioned about a brurglary? Or a robbery? Or a missing bike?

Yeah, I imagine it changes things.

The public relations point here is just this: You are not changing anybody's mind on l'affaire Gates.

Just not gonna hap'n.

But you might help them make up their mind.

Let's say 40 percent of Americans already think, nay, KNOW that this was a case of racial profiling or an overzealous cop.

Let's say that another 40 or so percent are positive this was case of a guy copping an attitude and thinking he's above the rules.

Still leaves 20 percent who just. don't. know.

That's where dominant narratives ... and elections ... are won and lost.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Just Kill a Guy

Early (well, earlier) in my public relations career I was confronted with the client or boss we all know.

In this case he was the CEO of his organization. He leaned across the conference table and, with his eyeglasses in one hand and the other hand clenched in ball pounding the table said, “Your job, young man [I was] is to get my name in the paper.”

I was just young enough that I couldn’t control the impulse to say: “Just kill a guy.”

After an eternal pause I explained that if all you want is your name in the paper, killing a guy … preferably in public … is the best way to ensure success.

Too many organizations mistake awareness for success in public relations. Too many professionals do too. They’re the agencies or consultants who promise to “tell your story” or to “make you famous.”

The power of your story should not be discounted, but it’s only part of the deal. What is your objective? What do you want to accomplish by having your story told, your name in the paper, by being ‘famous’?

Getting that client’s name in the paper was a means to an end. Unfortunately, it was an end he couldn’t articulate.

There was a time when just getting your name – or your preferred narrative – in print or on the air was enough. That’s where the audience was and news coverage was the most efficient way to reach decision makers, whether they were homemakers or CEOs.

The higher objective of public relations always should be just that: RELATIONS, or rather relationships. Name awareness counts, but does that work in other relationships in your life?

Or do you need a little engagement, too?

Awareness is a means …