The 60’s were a turbulent time in America. The Viet Nam war was raging, women were burning bras and becoming more vocal about equal rights, and between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, the civil rights movement was weighing heavy on the conscience of America. In the 1966 race for Mayor of Boston, City Council member Louise Day Hicks ran against Kevin White. Mrs. Hicks ran mainly on the issue of “forced” busing. The campaign was ugly, volatile, and in too many cases, violent. White people were angry about being forced to put their children on buses and sending them to Black neighborhoods, where the schools were less that up to standard. The Mayor felt that if White kids went to Black schools, those schools would improve. While it is true that people were angry about kids being bussed to schools out of their neighborhoods, it is also true that Boston kids had always been bussed to different schools. It wasn’t the busing, that made parents mad, it was the idea of ‘forced’ busing.
Words are truly important. Good Public Relations people understand this and craft all their messages around the idea that you tell people what’s in it for them and you give people what they want to hear. Does this mean that a PR campaign will not always ring with truth. It can mean that. Or, if you want to get Machiavellian, you can say that if it works and you achieve your goal, the end justifies the means. I do not subscribe to lying, but think choosing words carefully, can be fine. There are oh so many examples of the way words work (or don’t), and I thought I might give you a few examples.
In one of the 1984 Presidential primary debates, Gary Hart was looking pretty good until Walter Mondale – mimicking an 80 year old actress in a Wendy’s commercial, asked, “Where’s the Beef”. And once he did the public and the media started to question Gary about the substance of his policies and what he was trying to say.
My friend Michael Deaver, who was exceptionally talented and creative in positioning and creating an image for Ronald Reagan, understood this almost better than anyone. It was his job to make sure that Reagan’s speeches, public appearances, and persona, as Governor and President, were carefully choreographed to be strong and inspirational. And he was not only good understanding the importance of words, but he is credited with inventing the “photo op” which was allowing the national media to take pictures of the President in only the best situations and the best light. He was so good!
George Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” merely weeks after we invaded Iraq. His people knew that the mission wasn’t accomplished, but they gave the American people what they decided the American people wanted to hear. The mission is still not accomplished, but that didn’t stop the Bush-wackers from crafting less than truthful messages (about everything), to maintain power and build wealth for their friends. And unfortunately, it worked for most of his eight years and the country is now suffering serious consequences.
By the way, and in case you didn’t notice, Barack Obama has been having quite a difficult time convincing even some Democrats, and a considerable number of the public, that his health care reform is going to be a good thing. Today, about 46% of the people polled said that they were not in favor of change. People are generally reluctant to change – anything. People who do have health care don’t support change, and people who don’t have health care predictably feel that anything would be better than nothing. But why isn’t his campaign for yet, another change “yes we can”, working this time. I think it’s all about the language – the words. You can call it message, but a message is made up of words and often visuals, so call it what you want—it ain’t happening. I think it’s because ‘reforming health care’ is not specific enough. And not really what we're talking about. It is something that people don’t understand, and about which they are frightened, so why would they support it? If, however, the President were to talk about reforming health insurance and if he were to be specific about insurance rules that need to be changed, like what things are covered, and eliminating coverage of any pre existing conditions, people would absolutely support him.. The President needs to reform his health care pitch if he wants to be successful with his health insurance reform. Yes he does! We’re just sayin’…Iris