Posted by Bruce Pilgrim
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Talking to My Cats: 11-27-07
There is no truth to the scurrilous charge that working in contemporary PR is in any way akin to Winston Smith's job in George Orwell's 1984. Smith worked in the Records office of The Ministry of Truth, rewriting the past. If a prominent member of the party fell out of favor, that individual became an "unperson" and all references to said unperson were expunged. This often required the deletion of him or her from any and all photographs. (If only Winston had had access to Photoshop.)
PR's task these days is often quite the opposite, the somewhat subtle task of rehabilitating past actions of key figures, revising the past to fit present objectives. This works particularly well with dead people who are, well, conveniently dead. No one except their heirs can contradict the virtuous new garments we weave around the departed to justify our agendas.
That's why all the Republican presidential candidates are trying to appear Reaganesque rather than Bushlike. By recasting Ronald Reagan through a distorted nostalgic lens that ignores certain awkward facts, they promise a return to a fondly recalled time that never actually was.
Democrats have also copiously revised history, promoting Harry "The Buck Stops Here" Truman instead of the "To Err is Truman" of old. And despite the revelations of JFK's extra-marital peccadilloes, the myth of Camelot continues to be fondly mis-remembered. More recently, John Kerry (who desperately wanted to appear Kennedyesque) failed in his attempt to revise history when he proclaimed "I voted for it before I voted against it."
Of course, there are any number of unpersons to be dealt with, or rather deleted, these days as their fortunes wane. Jack Abromof's list of friends and acquaintances has dwindled greatly while Sen. Larry Craig's MySpace circle shrinks by the hour.
In the corporate Ministry of Truth, our revisionistic agenda is more mundane. We just need to spruce up the past a little to fit current realities. A drop in actual versus projected sales becomes "a anomaly caused by unusually turbulent market conditions," the shipping date for the software release that crashes automatically every 17 seconds is "rescheduled to better fit the needs of the user community," and the guy who was sacked for fondling every female within arms' length "has left the company to pursue other interests."
Every now and then, PR is called upon to revise contemporary reality to stave off erosion of the corporate image. When the HQ of my former employer was gutted by a fire, the VP of Communications immediately assured Wall Street that the fire was "a minor inconvenience" and the company was operating on a business as usual basis. A colleague of mine spent the next several years telling those who came to him looking for certain documents, copies of brochures, videotapes, and other items, that they were "lost during the inconvenience."