Climate change could really use some positive PR right now.
President Obama announced new steps last week to cut carbon emissions, promote energy efficiency and boost solar power. “There are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time,” he said. The president added that 300 organizations and companies have pledged to expand their use of solar energy, which he noted is getting cheaper and easier to use.
There’s overwhelming scientific evidence that humans are contributing to climate change. But many Americans aren’t buying it. In a January Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, “just 27% of respondents said addressing climate change should be an absolute priority this year, with 41% saying that it could be delayed until next year and 29% saying it shouldn’t be pursued.” The same poll revealed a sharp difference in the way Republicans and Democrats view the issue, with 40% of Democrats said addressing climate change should be an absolute priority, compared with 14% of Republicans. A Public Policy Polling survey last year found 38% of Americans believe global warming is a hoax.
As part of the public relations war being waged on the issue, BarackObama.com has devoted pages and pages of Republican politicians’ quotes which ridicule how they’ve been ridiculing climate change. A small sample includes Sen. Marco Rubio in an interview with CNN this week, saying that the president was “not a meteorologist” and “it’s enormous stretch to say that every weather incident that we now read about–or the majority of them–are attributable to human activity;” and Rep. Dan Benishek. who is also a physician, saying that climate change is “all baloney,” “just some scheme,” and “unproven science stuff.”
Lately, most nightly news reports lead with weather disasters throughout in the country. And as we know, our local weather has been pretty bad in recent years. Scientists with no political agendas say we’ve been hurting the environment for years and we’re starting to pay the price. Climate change is happening and it’s time to get the public to believe it so real action can be taken. Maybe a good PR campaign will help. Your thoughts?
Like other organizations, colleges and universities depend upon good public relations and marketing campaigns to build and maintain positive images. A primary goal of such campaigns is to recruit new students, essential to the existence of every academic institution. As every college student and high school junior knows, colleges spend a lot of money on printed materials, web sites and social media, plus ubiquitous open house events at which visitors see the campus and hear “the spiel.”
My PR pal and adjunct professor at Hofstra University, Bert Cunningham, likes to bring PR stories to my attention. This week Professor Cunningham shared an article in the Wall Street Journal by Marek Fuchs titled, “Oh, No, Not Another College Tour!” which focuses on (from his perspective) the mistakes colleges and universities typically make during spring’s “open house” season. He believes institutions miss opportunities to answer real questions and concerns, because group tours tend to focus on showcasing the school’s superficial positives such as ample library hours, dining options, the landscaping, and environmental consciousness while being conducted by well-rehearsed, well-scrubbed student guides.
But is this such a bad thing? If the purpose of an open house is to convince potential students and their parents or guardians of the school’s virtues, then why not put their best foot forward and highlight all things positive? Fuchs, a writing professor at Sarah Lawrence College, said, “But it does seem that with so much depending on the outcome of their pitch, colleges should put more original effort into the standard-issue, plain (fat-free) vanilla tour.” He suggests separate tours for parents and students to create a more free exchange of ideas and questions, night tours since so much campus life goes on after hours, anonymous questions so no one holds anything back, and untrained random student tour guides (which is a terrible idea!).
I believe most institutions already encourage the kinds of exchanges Fuchs is recommending. And parents and potential students should gravitate to those schools which create a comfortable environment for asking questions. That’s just good PR. Your thoughts?
Because public relations practitioners often focus on forming, reinforcing or changing public opinion, I’m intrigued by the candidacies of Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner. Spitzer, the former New York governor who solicited prostitutes and was forced to resign in 2008, declared this week that he is running for New York City comptroller. He already leads in early polls. Weiner, the former Queens congressman who tweeted salacious photos of himself and resigned in 2011, leads in the race for New York City mayor, according to a Wall Street Journal-NBC New York-Marist poll released last Tuesday.
There is mixed reaction from the public and political pundits about these two candidates, and their exploits have again become fodder for late night comedians. But although Weiner and Spitzer may have, at minimum, had serious lapses in moral judgment, they do have one very strong positive going for them: they both have tremendous name recognition. And just as the old political adage states that “every handshake equals a vote,” name recognition gives candidates a huge advantage over lesser-known opponents.
But what of their misdeeds? Both men have told reporters that they believe they’ve atoned for their sins and deserve a second chance. Spitzer told Jay Leno in a taping of “The Tonight Show” on Friday, “People who fall prey to hubris end up falling themselves…and the fall from grace is incredibly painful. It is something from which you can learn.”
I wonder if such humility will move the public’s opinion of Eliot Spitzer enough to get him elected comptroller. And are New Yorkers willing to vote Anthony Weiner into the city’s highest office just two years after his terribly embarrassing resignation? There can be no escaping frequent focus on their misbehavior, no matter how often they attempt to move the discussion to the issues. Spitzer and Weiner are excellent communicators, but they’ll have to be highly effective at steering the conversation away from their indiscretions. We’ve seen politicians (including Bill Clinton, of course) recover from sex scandals, so these races will be very interesting to watch. Your thoughts?
The Grand Old Party has been soul searching since its loss in November, seeking ways to win back the hearts of voters. With the election of its new Pope, a grand old religion has been soul searching as well. Both venerable institutions understand their significant challenges; both face a constituency that has drifted away from principles that seem out of step with the changes in the worlds they are trying to lead.
Much has been said lately about both the Republican Party’s and the Catholic Church’s public relations challenges. Wrote Michael Sebastion in PR Daily on March 14: “To embrace change, the church must overhaul its communication efforts. For instance, Cardinal Donald William Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, told The Wall Street Journal that the church needs a fresh way of presenting its message. ‘Communications are going to be a big part of that,’ said Cardinal Wuerl said. ‘We have moved into this world of rapid communications. That’s all part of the new evangelization.'”
“We have more evidence that the GOP has a serious public image problem that, if not dealt with soon, will pose serious problems with the GOP in election years to come,” wrote Doug Mataconis in the February 27 issue of Outside the Beltway. “First up, there’s a new survey from Pew showing that, while voters see the GOP as principled, they also consider the party as being out of step with the country…Numbers like this explain quite well why the GOP consistently seems to be losing public relations battles with the president regardless of what the issue gripping the nation happens to be.”
The church must effectively address its sex abuse scandal before it worries about PR. The GOP must embrace a new platform to better answer a changing America. A PR manager’s seat at the table is supremely important when major decisions are made, but policy cannot be made soley through a PR prism; only true fundamental change for both institutions will move public opinion. Such change may be easier for the GOP than the Vatican, but public relations shouldn’t come before performance. Your thoughts?
P.S. On March 14, 1983 I began my career a PR practitioner. It’s been an amazing run and I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years will bring!