The PR Battle over Guns – Crisis Communications Case Study
I think we’re onto something. The NRA just may be taking my advice.
Shortly after the NRA issued its first public statement following the Connecticut school shooting, I gave some PR analysis on why the NRA was losing the PR war.
I think the NRA is either reading my PR blog or they hired someone who knew what he (or she) was doing. In my initial assessment, I explained why the NRA was doing nearly everything wrong when it came to defending guns following the deadly school shooting. Since I wrote that article, I’ve started to notice that the NRA is gearing its PR message towards women. Here’s what I wrote in December 2012:
Right now the NRA is facing a tough public image problem. It’s guns vs. little children. That is a difficult public image challenge because every parent has an instinct to protect little children from harm. It’s a difficult fight, but the NRA needs to put a new face on this problem. They need to move the conversation away from assault rifles and back to the image of a father and daughter hunting together. As long as the debate surrounds military assault rifles, the NRA loses.
This evening I stumbled across this photo on Facebook. From a marketing perspective, the ad gets your attention – though not necessarily in a tasteful way. I’ve also started noticing how the pro-gun lobby is running commercials on cable news, featuring women hunting with rifles. Also in February, a spokeswoman for the gun lobby organization discussed on CNBC’s Squawk Box why women love their guns. And I can’t remember where I saw it, but I do remember watching a news story for a local affiliate that talked about how more women are now signing up for target practice. Even the “liberal” New York Times ran a story on the “Rising Voice” of “Female Gun Ownership.” The message that women love their guns is getting out, but is it working?
In business school, they teach you that execution trumps ideas. Strategy is important but how you execute matters more.
In crisis communications, common sense trumps controversy.
If you want my analysis from a PR perspective, the NRA is taking their crisis communications to the edge of controversy. Of course, the picture communicates a strong message about women but it is controversial. And yet another pro-gun commercial targeting moms brings the Obama children into the gun debate. Whether you love or loathe the Obama administration policy, his children should not be exploited in negative ads as this pro-gun lobby commercials does. (Scroll down to watch the commercial). In that same CNBC segment, I listened as even conservatives explained why this commercial featuring the Obama children was offensive. The controversy detracted from the message.
So what can you learn from the NRA and their high-priced crisis communications consultants? If you are in the middle of controversy, don’t create more controversy with your message. If you are in a crisis, don’t dig another hole with anything even remotely controversial. Reinforce the message you want to communicate, but execute it in a way that doesn’t alienate people. Now should I predict what I think the NRA will do next?
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Mark Macias is a former Executive Producer with WNBC and Senior Producer with WCBS. He’s also the author of the communications book, Beat the Press: Your Guide to Managing the Media. Macias now consults small and large businesses on how to get publicity. You can read more on his firm at MaciasPR.