As the Nevada primary spelled the end of Jeb Bush’s candidacy, I remained fascinated by a tweet he posted just days earlier, first for its content, second for its feedback, and third for the tactic’s anemic impact.
The former Florida governor posted a photo of a handgun with “Gov. Jeb Bush” engraved on it, with the simple caption “America.”
Was this tweet an attempt to get much-needed attention as his campaign faced extinction? Was is designed to reinforce his relationship with GOP conservatives, gun owners and the National Rifle Association? Bush told a reporter, “The purpose was we went to a gun manufacturing facility where lots of jobs are created, high-wage jobs. And I received a gun and I was honored to have it.”
The Twitter feedback was on one hand predictably supportive and on the other hand predictably angry. The Brady Campaign, a gun safety lobbying group, tweeted, “America. Where #gunviolence kills 33,000 people per year. Thanks for the reminder @JebBush.” The NRA tweeted “America” accompanied by a graphic of the Bill of Rights. Lauren Olin posted “America” with a photo of a crying mother outside Sandy Hook Elementary School. Glenn Greenwald re-tweeted the photo and added, “Ponder all the psychological anxieties and insecurities that would cause someone to post this.”
Eight months ago, Jeb Bush seemed destined to become the third family member to lead a presidential ticket. But a candidate must connect to voters by using the power of words, images, ideas, and the projection of leadership. Bush’s primary numbers had remained in single digits despite spending tens of millions of dollars. Obviously, his campaign became desperate for attention, and so this potentially controversial image and caption was tweeted to grab headlines. However, it was too late. The tweet barely received coverage because interest in his campaign had become about as strong as his poll numbers.
Unlike his father and brother, Jeb Bush was unable to break through the competition by communicating effectively, despite well thought-out, realistic positions on major issues. This last ditch effort, a controversial publicity stunt to gain attention, was clearly as ineffective. Your thoughts?
Since I blogged in December 2012 about the horrific shootings of 20 young children and six women in Newtown, Connecticut, there have been many more mass shootings in the U.S., the latest last week at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where nine people were cut down by a gunman. As a PR guy, I wondered back then how the National Rifle Association (NRA) would react to the horrific shootings. The NRA, which has successfully beaten down efforts to regulate the sale of guns by supporting pro-gun rights candidates, remained silent for a couple of days after Newtown and later accused politicians and others of “politicizing” the tragedy.
Sadly, history has repeated itself. Search “Umpqua” on the NRA web site today and there’s not a single mention of the shootings. However, Jack Levi, the NRA’s assistant deputy press relations chief, spoke out on Friday. “The NRA strongly advises against Americans discussing gun control at this time,” said Levi, suggesting that “letting emotions take over a highly emotional event” will only lead to “the further eroding of our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms.” He accused the Obama administration and the “liberal media” of having “created a sense of urgency” when it’s “not necessary.”
But what Levi said next was truly alarming. “It’s just too premature to look at 45 separate school shootings as an indication of a problem that needs solving.” And he added in his estimation, “a minimum of 30 or 40 more” school shootings would be where he’d set the threshold and even then, “you really might be overreacting.”
Thirty or 40 more, Mr. Levi? Are we and the media ever “overreacting” to these heinous mass murders?
Yet again, the gun control battle lines are drawn and, I suspect, with little end result. On the day of the Umpqua shootings, President Obama sadly stated that such events and the subsequent reaction “have become routine,” adding, “This is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.” True to form, several GOP presidential candidates and pro-gun groups have rejected the president’s “politicization” of the issue.
Score one for Obama’s PR team.
Alongside the national debate on gun control is a public relations war being waged on both sides. I’ve written that while the National Rifle Association’s messaging appeals to its base, the organization risks losing support among the less radical gun rights supporters. Proponents of new gun control laws have used parents of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims in their efforts, as did President Obama. For the first time in his presidency, he turned over his weekly address to Francine Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son, Ben, was one of the 20 children killed in Newtown, Connecticut last December.
According to the Washington Post, “Wheeler’s remarks are a heart-wrenching capstone to a week of intense lobbying in Washington by parents of children slaughtered at Sandy Hook… After Obama issued a forceful call for swift action during a campaign-style rally in Connecticut on Monday, he brought about a dozen Sandy Hook parents with him to Washington aboard Air Force One. The parents spent the week meeting personally with senators to lobby them to support stricter gun laws…”
We know how essential the right spokesperson can be when endeavoring to influence opinion. For example, BP CEO Tony (“I’d like my life back“) Heyward handled things poorly during the Gulf oil spill crisis, and questions of “good spokesmanship” were raised when CEO Greg Creed defended Taco Bell’s recipe in 2011. But no matter which side of the gun issue you’re on, I don’t think you can find a more powerful spokesperson than the mother of a murdered child.
If you’re alarmed that these people are being used, don’t be. They have become willing representatives of the 100,000 Americans murdered or injured each year by guns. Gun control proponents are very smart to appropriately use their most powerful public relations weapon–in this case, the Sandy Hook parents–if they’re going to have any chance of seeing changes in the nation’s gun laws.
The right representative is essential when working to shape opinions. Francine Wheeler was, indeed, an emotional spokesperson–and the right one for this cause. Your thoughts?
I shouldn’t have been surprised at the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) public statements since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the Obama Administration’s efforts to address gun violence. Yet I was, initially.
I had suggested in this blog that the NRA moderate its tone in light of the shock the nation has felt after Sandy Hook. My public relations advice was for a quiet, “let’s talk” approach with maybe a hint of compromise. Instead, the NRA has dug in its heels and gone after its opponents with guns blazing, so to speak.
After NRA officials met with Vice President Biden and other officials last week, the pro-gun ownership organization issued a statement saying it was “disappointed” with the “White House’s agenda to attack the Second Amendment.” Its leadership, which earlier had called for armed officers in every school, said that they warned us that President Obama’s re-election would mean he would push his anti-gun agenda. One NRA official went so far to say that the school shootings were Obama’s excuse for moving his long-term plans forward. As if the president was waiting for the next mass murder to make his move.
It’s been pointed out to me here and outside of the blogosphere that the NRA is doing what its members expect it to do: conduct an all-out, very public defense effort to stop any government action that could limit the purchase of firearms. So, in fact, the organization IS conducting a good PR campaign. It is playing the role of protagonist on behalf of its primary constituency–its 4.2 million members–and making them feel that they’re getting their dues’ worth. Acts of compromise, damaging opinion polls and public goodwill be damned; the NRA’s message remains consistent, rigid and unyielding. Your thoughts?
Using fear to draw an emotional response is a well-worn tactic. That’s what the NRA did in the wake of Sandy Hook. It moved the national conversation from tougher gun control laws to arming every school in America. “We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards,” exclaimed NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LePierre in last week’s press conference. “American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses — even sports stadiums — are all protected by armed security. We care about the president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents…Yet when it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family — our children — we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it.”
My friend and mentor Bert Cunningham posted a comment to Public Relations Nation, framing the PR aspects: “With Sandy Hook victims still being buried, the NRA responded to the Sandy Hook killings saying: to stop gun slaughter in schools, more guns are needed. To those who are not gun advocates, it sounded arrogant and insane…But PR pros and students need to visit http://www.NRA.org and read (yesterday’s) complete press statement and related postings.
“There’s a Mein Kampf-like logic to the NRA’s message,” Bert continued. “It not only speaks to its members, their bread and butter, it also speaks to those less emotional about Sandy Hook or informed about gun violence in general. And that’s how they plan to speak past renewed calls for greater control of guns and gun use in America. With the NRA’s aggressive ‘our way is the best way to protect you’ PR strategy now clear, the question is: How will those who seek change advance PR messaging and solutions in a sustained way to overcome it?”
The NRA might have opted for a toned-down response and asked for a seat at Vice President Biden’s table as he leads the president’s new task force on gun control. Instead, the NRA’s vividly emotional approach cleverly moved the conversation. Bert and I, and our colleagues and students, will be watching how gun control advocates work to move it back. Your thoughts?
Last weekend, rocker and gun rights activist Ted Nugent made a speech to the National Rifle Association, comparing President Obama and Democrats to coyotes. “If the coyote’s in your living room pissing on your couch, it’s not the coyote’s fault,” he said. “It’s your fault for not shooting him.” He went on to remark, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” Nugent’s comments gained the attention of the Secret Service, who scheduled a Thursday appointment to talk to him.
On Wednesday, Hofstra University’s public relations firm successfully pitched Fox News Radio (FNR) on interviewing an “expert” who can talk about how celebrities can repair their images after they’ve gone too far with political comments. Hofstra’s University Relations office asked me if I could be available for interviews on several Fox-affiliated radio stations the following morning. Understanding the PR value for the school (and for me!), I said yes.
On Thursday at 6 a.m., I was emailed a schedule. From 7:08 through 10:10 a.m., I talked with 10 radio morning shows from 10 different cities throughout the U.S. I sat by my phone as a Fox producer in New York called a minute or two before I was to go “live” on each station. The interviews each lasted 5-8 minutes; a Florida host interviewed me for 15. I was asked about Nugent and other celebrities who get themselves into trouble, and I suggested that a sincere apology is always a good way to begin healing damage that’s been done to a public image. I added that Ted Nugent doesn’t seem to care much about his image and is not likely to say “I’m sorry” — except maybe to the Secret Service.
The result of all this: Hofstra got mentioned several times on Fox affiliates throughout the country, and morning show audiences heard some (hopefully) good information and got a favorable impression of the university. Ten radio stations got a few minutes of solid programming on an interesting topic, and the PR agency that pitched it got paid. This, ladies and gentlemen, is an example good PR. Your thoughts?