This week the Republican National Convention highlighted the brutal nature of public relations.
Clint Eastwood, a national icon revered by Americans, seemed like a bulletproof choice as guest speaker for Mitt Romney’s big night.
Our culture worships celebrities for playing characters like Dirty Harry, who represent the tough guy all of us would be if we weren’t really the guys who we are.
Throw up the image of Eastwood’s legendary scowl on the big screen, have the aging Eastwood walk out to the podium, and watch a stadium full of well-educated, well-dressed (except for those hats) people cheer like One Direction fans as Eastwood’s thoughts and sanity painfully unraveled before them–all beside an empty chair occupied by an invisible President Obama. Everyone cheered. The whole time.
It was crazy. F-bomb crazy.
Outside of the stadium, however, something very different was happening. President Obama’s team was poised to react to whatever happened at the convention. Within hours of Eastwood’s inexplicable speech, Obama’s PR team had owned the narrative by capitalizing on the sometimes inane, occasionally venomous and completely contemptuous ramblings of Eastwood. And they did it in three words: This seat’s taken.
Modern day PR is a harsh 24-hour, 7-day a week competition. By Friday morning, the Eastwooding meme was everywhere. For the Romney camp, this was a public relations calamity, as they too fell victim to the cult of personality and didn’t vet Eastwood’s words in what otherwise has been a very disciplined PR effort.
The Republicans assembled a spirited and efficient team of PR experts to react to the reactions of the press and fact checkers, which has resulted in a high-speed, media bloodbath of accusations and rebuttals that leave Americans feeling not informed but despondent for a nation. Both Democrats and Republicans do this because that’s how important owning the narrative is to public perception.
Soon it will be the Democrats’ turn to take the PR helm at their national convention, and it will be the Republicans’ chance to pounce of the inevitable fallibility that comes with putting human beings behind a microphone. And, like the Democrats, they will show no mercy.
It’s the way Dirty Harry would have wanted it.
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