Friday, December 30, 2011

Occupying our minds

One of the foundations of public relations is understanding and evaluating your audience. We conduct countless surveys, analyze news articles and polls, and spend tens of thousands of dollars on research to make sure our message, our efforts are going to be received by a receptive audience. We build complex communications strategies based on this important research.

It strikes me, therefore, that the Occupy folks have not opened one book on public relations. If they did, they would realize that a protest at the 2012 Rose Parade will likely do more to hurt their cause rather than help it.

The Rose Parade is sacred ground for the legions of loyal followers. Which, in this case, includes tens of millions of Americans who are both the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The parade is the annual time for millions to be enchanted by the color and pomp (and occasional technological wizardry) of the floats, the back stories about the bands that held cookie sales to finance their journey from some small town in Iowa, the history of a particular breed of horse and the innocent beauty of the Rose Queen and her court.

It's the exact annual moment of the year when the country is trying to escape - from a hangover, from the things that went bad the year before, from the dread of what's to come. We want to smile and be awed. We're willing to risk a cold sleepless night along Colorado Boulevard for a spot to see the parade in person, to hear the bands and see the flowers.

Naturally, when news surfaced that the Occupy folks were planning to protest at the Rose Parade, there was universal feelings of: "No. Not my Rose Parade." The common reaction was bordering on feeling violated. The average person felt like they owned the parade. One of the last remaining treasures untouched by scandal, a few hours of pure fun and joy with a warmth of nostalgia was about to be the stage for a political protest. The reaction has been negative on a universal level.

So, why would Occupy folks whose goal seemingly is to gain mindshare, approval and sympathy choose a path that will do the exact opposite?

In public relations, we often are in the business of telling a client "no." What may seem like a great idea will backfire. Even with research that tells us it's a bad idea, some clients will go ahead with an event or announcement - with the negative results we predicted.

In this case, we would have to tell the Occupy folks that in spite of the potential to reach an international TV audience, your message will not be heard or accepted. In fact, you are likely to do more harm to your campaign. Any hope of gaining sympathy for the cause will vanish.

The audience research tells us you picked the wrong time and place.

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