It’s In The Hands Of The Voters  (OP-ED)

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Gun control and abortion rights issues expose the limits of political and non-political public relations campaigns. It’s not the money spent that counts, or the number of media placements. it’s the number of votes and changing the minds of people that matters.

Arthur Solomon

On May 30, on this website I wrote that if meaningful gun control and women’s right to choose legislation will be enacted it will not be because of  Democratic lawmakers and their allies wining the public relations war.  There’s only one sure-fire way to enact what the polls show people want: The majority of Americans want gun control legislation and protecting women’s rights to an abortion. In order to give the public what they want  proponents of these goals must vote — not just during this mid-term election or the 2024 presidential one but during election after election (as Republican voters do). 

But depending on voter turnout in a non-presidential election year is a major problem for Democrats because Republican voters always vote, Democratic voters take a holiday. 

For those readers who missed it, here’s what I also said in my May 24 column on this site. “Instead of marches and other forms of protesting, abortion rights advocates should use every minute organizing people to vote. They should start ringing door bells now and not stop until after Election Day. Because on Election Day it will not be the pro or anti-abortion forces that decide the outcome. The election will not be decided by the side that gets the most TV time. The winners will be decided by what former President Richard Nixon called the “silent majority.”  Because it is the “silent majority” whose voices are heard on Election Day.” Substantial legislation about gun control and abortion rights is not in the hands of current elected officials but in the hands of voters. 

Immediately after the May 24 massacre of 19 students and two teachers at the Uvidale elementary school in Texas, Republicans started to skirt around the gun control issue, attempting to frame the discussions about mental health problems and lax school security; then in the Senate by blocking even a hearing on legislation regarding domestic terrorism.

And in Houston, just three days after the shootings and 280 miles from Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children were massacred at the elementary school and two teachers died, the National Rifle Association went ahead with its usual irrational, uncaring convention, during which speakers blamed the slaughter of children on issues like the breakdown of the American family, social media posts, violent media games and “evil.” Every possible reason for the mass killings was spoken except the one that could have prevented it – more restrictive gun control legislation.

(A lowlight of the NRA convention was the appearance of Donald Trump. the crass-speaking twice-impeached president of the U.S. Mental health experts have long said that diagnosing people without in-person examinations is dangerous and unprofessional.)

Well, since I am not a mental health professional, I just base my opinions on how an individual acts in person or on TV. For years I thought that Donald Trump, the former president, who holds the record for being impeached (two times), is an extreme egomaniac at the minimum, a person who is incapable of empathy and devoid of moral judgment and is dangerously delusional, in addition to having autocratic beliefs. 

During his speech at the convention, the  former twice impeached president actually – and you can’t make this up, check it out for yourself  did  a dance before the gun-happy throng, when as a former president a speech asking for Americans to come together after the massacre would have been appropriate. But then again Trump is no ordinary human being or president. He is a twice-impeached, mentally-deficient person with delusions of grandeur. “The kids died. Trump danced,” Democratic Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in a tweet.

So while the Republicans went on the attack immediately after the Uvalde carnage, defending the right for citizens to own military type guns, what did the Democratic Senate leadership do? They asked for a 10 days time out to see if they could come to agreement with Republican senators regarding gun control legislation. In the meantime, instead of Democrats attacking 

Republican senators by name and calling for vote after vote on the issue, the carnage continued.

(A story in the New York Post on May 31 reported, “ It was a somber and bloody Memorial Day weekend, as at least 14 mass shootings erupted across the United States, leaving eight dead and 59 wounded, new data from a research group shows. The spate of gun attacks – from Nevada to Texas to Pennsylvania – broke out amid calls for gun control following the May 24 school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead. And the Wall Street Journal on June 6 reported, “Shootings in Philadelphia and Chattanooga, Tenn., left five people dead and about two dozen others wounded over the weekend, adding to the growing tally of U.S. gun violence“On Saturday and Sunday, gun violence nationwide resulted in at least 10 mass shootings—defined as at least four people shot, excluding the shooter, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that tracks mass shootings,” said the Journal.)

So, after more than 10 days of playing patty-cake with their GOP colleagues here’s what emerged: Potential gun legislation that is so weak that even if it gains enough votes to pass in the Senate will do little to stop the slaughter of Americans with military type weapons. At best, chalk this up to better less than nothing.

Regardless of how the debates about gun control and abortion rights comes out, one truth has emerged that many people in our business refuse to admit: Despite the many millions of dollars spent on public relations and advertising campaigns, they cannot change opinions on issues that are important to individuals. Maybe big budget campaigns can convince a person to try a new product at least once. But after that initial purchase public relations and advertising campaigns will not convince an individual to keep buying a product that doesn’t satisfy the purchaser. And history proves that also applies to those good-feel full page ads that organizations take out in newspapers about public issues or multiple appearances on television by proponents of an issue. 

What does the above have to do with the gun and abortion issues? 

“Everything” is my answer. The lesson to be remembered is that multiple positive media results might make the agency account team happy, but it might not result in what the client’s company hoped for. 

A main problem with the Democrats public relations approach is that the great majority of their spokespersons and allies look and sound similar– mostly Black and Caucasian Americans from big cities. This formula has failed to gain Democrats the control of the Senate, which is necessary to enact guns control and abortion rights legislation. Largely missing on national TV are Democratic voices with accents from the rural south, mid-west and mountain states.

Also, in my May 30 column on this site, I suggested the following: “Also necessary is for the Democrats to have spokespeople on TV who look and talk more like rural Americans. Doing this would certainly infuriate Afro-American groups, the Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters, thus far. But recent elections show that the number of Afro-Americans and Hispanics who vote Democratic is declining. In order to have a sustainable future the Democratic Party must change with the times, which also means dumping their PR approach, which results in their winning the media wars but losing the issue wars.

One quick and easy fix to the Democrats public relations approach is for the Democratic Senate leadership to call a weekly vote on substantial gun control legislation. Even though the legislation is certain to be blocked by the Republicans, it will put GOP senators on the record, providing campaign fodder for Democrats in swing states who are running against incumbent GOP senators. But those “campaign votes” must begin immediately because there is no assurance that the Democrats will retain control of the Senate after the mid-term elections. 

And for people in our business: Don’t get sore arms by patting yourself on the back because you’ve achieved numerous placements. What’s really important is not the number, but the quality of the placements and did they achieve what the client’s company wanted.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” is a quote attributed to Albert Einstein. The same definition can be applied to the Democratic Party’s way of doing things and also to many agency non-political PR programs, which too often are familiar updates versions of former ones. 

As several editor friends of mine from my days as a journalist would say: “See one agency PR approach, see them all.” The same is true regarding Democratic Party spokespeople who have dominated the cable TV political talk shows for decades.


The Unspoken PR Tenet: Bad News Is Good News for Our Business By Arthur SolomonAbout 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 was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.