Academics, sociologists and philosophers are attempting to find the problems of American society. Only they know how many hours and how much money has been devoted in an effort to learn the root cause that has divided Americans.
They still don’t know the answer. But I do: It’s “tunnel vision.”
A definition of “tunnel vision” by Merriam-Webster is “extreme narrowness of viewpoint: NARROW-MINDEDNESS also: single-minded concentration on one objective.”
That’s also a major problem for practitioners of our business.
I’ve experienced “tunnel vision” many times. So have you, even if you don’t recognize it.’
A few of my own encounters with “tunnel vision.”
- A friend, who is a physician, invited me to a party at his house. Other than members of his family, my wife and I were the only none physicians. I had a passing acquaintance of many of the guests. But I knew a few for many years. They were my physicians.
After a polite “hello,” the doctors huddled together, resembling a football team, never to speak to me again until it was time to say “goodnight.” Chances are that the doctors were talking “doctor talk,” meaning what we can do to increase our billings. “Tunnel vision.”
- Another time I was invited by the same friend to the wedding of one of his children. My wife and I were the only none physicians at the table. All the physicians had different specialties, so chances are they couldn’t have been discussing the latest medical advances in their field. And they weren’t. They were discussing how unfair it was to them because Democratic leaders, especially Hillary Clinton, wanted to make health care more affordable. “Tunnel vision.”
- Prior to joining Burson-Marsteller, I worked at a political PR firm. Today it would be called a boutique. During campaign seasons the work day never ended before 11 p.m., often into the early a.m. hours. The owner of the firm thought it was unsafe for me to take public transportation at those hours. When a taxi was not available, he would drive me home along with a high-ranking political figure who dominated an aspect of Brooklyn politics. As far as the political mogul was concerned it was as though I wasn’t there. Even though many of my truly unique approaches to publicity proved successful, only my employer would say, “Good work.” The political higher-up would only talk to others of his rank at campaign headquarters and during my ride home. “Tunnel vision.”
“Tunnel vision” is the incurable disease of our society. Unlike the vaccines combating Covid-19, there is no cure for it. It permeates all aspects of American society: Politics, activism, including, but not limited to, LGBTQ rights, racial issues and illegal immigration (I know that term is considered derogatory by proponents of people who enter our country illegal, but a rose by any other name …etc.) Promoter of these and other issues, like Donald Trump’s Big Lie, all suffer from “tunnel vision.” If you don’t agree with them 100%, you’re considered a right wing nut, a Homo neanderthalensis, a left wing fanatic or not woke enough. Their philosophy is “my way or the highway.” These advocates all suffer from the same problem “tunnel vision” and they together with the fanatic Trump followers are largely responsible for the divide in our country. Missing from their game plan dictionary is the word. “compromise.” (Also, it appears from Mitch McConnell’s vocabulary.)
“Tunnel vision” is not limited to people of different political positions. It is inherent in many businesses, especially ours.
During my days as a reporter and editor, I was always sympathetic to PR people. I helped when I could, but all too often what they were pitching had a problem. The pitches all seemed familiar because they were. If the pitches were human, they would have “tunnel vision.”
Many years ago, someone at a PR agency co-opted the phrase “work hard, play hard,” first used in a 19th century ad for a religious school, which included “work hard, play hard, pray hard.”
My first job at Burson-Marsteller was to evaluate pitches for their news content and attend creative meetings to develop client publicity programs. Multiple lifestyle programs wanted to use the theme “work hard, play hard,” even though I advised against it because another agency used it first and it would seem stale to editors.
Account people would often ask me why their pitches were rejected without a journalist explaining why. “I’ll give it a look,” was the most frequent answers from a journalist.” I was asked by high management to find out the reason that so many pitches were rejected.
As a former reporter and editor, I knew the reason, but management persisted and I had to follow through. The main reason, I was told, was prevalent with pitches from all PR agencies. Pitches all seemed the same. If reporter “A” did a story on a subject, the journalist would receive multiple pitches about the same subject. Missing was new news information. The difference most often was the name of the client; even the quotes seemed similar. (That is especially true today in quotes regarding a PR crisis. See one, see them all.)
Too often, PR people play follow the leader. That results in publicity pitches being rejected by journalists because of the similarity to previous ones. Instead of “work hard, play hard” PR people should “think hard, think smart.”
Doing that might cure the “tunnel vision” in our business.
About the Author: Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and is on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.