Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant
Maybe because April 23 is Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day in United States, I had a dream about doing so last night.
In the dream, I took my children to the PR office that has been my home away from home for many years. As we walked the halls, here’s what they witnessed.
In the reception room: They saw a sign reading, “There’s no such thing as a despicable client (as long as they pay).
In the H.R. office: They witnessed training on how to convince employees that anything told to them would not be reported to management (even though in reality it is reported to management).
In the product PR corridor: They witnessed account people being threatened and berated by supervisors, who couldn’t do any better than those they were terrorizing.
In the crisis PR department: They witnessed self-proclaimed crises specialists trying to convince clients that tenets written many years ago still are relevant and work.
In the new business sector: They saw management trying to decide which employees could best convince potential clients that they have the answers to problems.
In the media training department: They saw trainers using methods that seldom work – like “getting ahead of the story” and “turning a negative question into a positive.”
In the sports marketing PR area: They saw account handlers being trained on how to convince a client that exposure is more important than the sales that failed to emerge after being involved in international mega sporting events that cost a fortune.
In the measurement room: They saw account handlers try to convince a client that a 700 word story, devoid of client talking points, with the only mention of the client saying, “Joe or Jane is a product manger at the XYZ company,” was worth the $5,200 in agency billing time.
In the medical PR department: They witnessed attorneys looking for loopholes in Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration regulations that would allow account people to make misleading statements about a product without fear of breaking the law.
In the make over department: They heard various tactics about how to make a despicable individual or company look good.
In the financial PR department: They saw a list of statements, using different words that said, “Despite this temporary setback, we expect robust growth in the future.”
In the executive wing: They observed discussions regarding how to convince employees that larger offices without salary increases are better than money.
In the political department: They heard account handlers and political operatives figuring our how to clean up politicians’ verbal flip flops with backtracking statements. Classes were conducted by members of Congress, led by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who used his own flip flops as teaching tools.
In the disclaimer room: They witnessed lessons on how best a client can deny making a statement, even if it was said before thousands of people and recordings and tapes of the remarks were made. President Trump led the session.
Then we took the elevator to our parent company, an advertising agency. Here’s what the children observed:
In the disclaimer room: They saw account executives with stop watches timing how fast an actor can read a disclaimer so a person couldn’t understand what was said. In another corner of the room, font technicians were experimenting how to make disclaimer statements so small that they were impossible to read.
In the account exec department: They saw account execs trying to convince clients that spending millions on a mega event is a better strategy than more targeted advertising; also ad execs pleading with clients to give a campaign a little more time, saying that the results will come.
In the creative department: They previewed TV commercials showing an eye candy beauty in a bikini, accompanied by misleading copy suggesting that if you try this diet (or exercise routine) you could look like “number 10.”
In the financial advertising department: They witnessed a crash course in how to say “things will improve in the next quarter,” even when it was obvious a company was in deep trouble.
In the medical advertising department: They witnessed attorneys looking for loopholes in Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration regulations that would allow account people to make misleading statements about a product without fear of breaking the law.
In the political advertising sector: They monitored a lesson on how to take comments out of context to use in a negative campaign ad.
There were areas in both the PR and advertising agency floors that were off-limit, except to “cleared” individuals. They were the “makeover rooms.”
In the advertising agency, the makeover room was where secret discussions were held to find a way to convince consumers that Product A was really superior to Product B, when only the packaging was changed.
Then we entered a room with an American flag on the door. This was the we support and honor room. There they heard discussions on how to make a company appear that they truly honor servicemen and first defenders (even though they do nothing to help them).
But there was one room, the winning is everything one, where the deceitful work done by individuals was considered a badge of honor. That was the room where creative people worked on political campaigns. Their assignments were to destroy the reputations of upright, caring candidates by using anything goes distortions of reality. Promotions to account handlers were awarded based on the quality of the lies they created. (In my opinion, that’s much more prevalent today than during my first job in PR, which was with a political agency that would not engage in tactics that included falsehoods or destroying reputations. After a few political campaigns I moved on to corporate and marketing PR, both of which has its own problems with truthfulness.)
There was also a don’t blame me room. It was where high ranking execs and account supervisors hold meetings to discuss how best to blame innocents A.E.s for mistakes made by the brass.
And there was a room known as the swamp. A picture of Donald Trump was on the wall, with an inscription reading “lie like a pro.” A.E.’s assigned to accounts being discussed were limited to graduates of Trump University. It was where strategy was discussed, my children were told, how to make dreadful entities look like caring
corporations and disgraceful individuals look like empathetic citizens. (“Everyone deserves a defense,” was often the phrase used during these sessions, even though we are not lawyers, merely propagandists.) Because my Master’s from Yale and my PhD from Harvard were scoffed at, and I didn’t have a degree from Trump University, I was always viewed suspiciously by account handlers assigned to those tasks.
Probably the most sought after job in the agency was to be an instructor in the celebrity salesroom. That was where actors and athletes were recruited and taught how to appear to have expertise about products they knew nothing about, when hawking them on TV commercials. When my children asked an athlete for an autograph, they were told, “I usually sign my name at autograph shows for $25 a pop. But I’ll make an exception. I’ll sign for you for $10.00.”
Then we looked into the coronavirus room, where masked creative types were tossing out “feeling” lines for advertisers to use on TV and radio commercials. “During these difficult times we are there for you,” and “We’ll get through this together,” were scribbled on the chalk board. Two copy chiefs were arguing about should it be, “During these times” or “In these times.” “Do you think President Clinton will let us use his “I feel your pain” remark, asked a novice copy writer. “Too political,” said someone else. “What about, ‘In these times there is no such thing as a Democrat or Republican,” someone said. “Great,” the copy chiefs said, and again started to argue if it should be, “During,” or “In.”
But the most closely guarded area was where promotions were made because of loyalty to agency brass instead of a person’s ability. This area was cynically known by employees as the no office politics in our company room.
On the way out of the building, we passed a door with a SRO sign affixed to it. It was the hypocrite’s room, a place for account handlers to cleanse their minds after promoting clients’ actions and messaging that they personally despise or disagree with. When my children asked why they couldn’t go into the room, I said. “It’s so crowded, you have to make a reservation.”
In the dream, one of my children asks me, “Daddy, does PR and advertising ever mislead people?” My other child asks, “What does caveat emptor mean?” Luckily the alarm clock woke me up before I had to answer.
Both the public relations floor and advertising floor had a skeptic’s room. They were the most comfortable rooms in the building. Urns of coffee, a free bar, and platters filled with fruits and cakes were continually replenished, when necessary, because that was where clients talked it over when deciding to approve or reject a program
Then reality set in. In these terrible coronavirus days, with so many people having to work from home, take our children to work day is not limited to April 23; it’s every day.
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 email@example.com.