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It Can't Just Be About PR

Saw an article on the travel page of the TODAY Show website, http://www.today.com/travel/get-me-plane-man-locked-dark-cabin-worst-layover-ever-2D11708456. The details for me aren’t all that important, it’s more what this story says about changes in our society. But let’s get to the PR first.

This is hardly good PR for United Airlines, somehow managing to dock one of its planes for the evening with a passenger still aboard, snoozing away in his seat. Evidently this is supposed to be about as possible as meeting the Pope at the corner Starbucks and have him purchase and bless your lowfat soy latte.

On the surface, doesn’t sound like that big a deal. So the UA crew forgot to make a complete sweep and missed a guy. He gets scores $250 from the airline, a free stay at a hotel and gets his story told nationally on the TODAY Show. Cool, eh?

But, and here’s my journalist brain working here (I always recommend to students if you’re going to go into PR, do an internship at some media outlet first), if United missed this little detail, what other details might they missing, you know, the sort of thing that causes problems when you’re 30,000 feet up in the sky? Does this sort of error instill confidence, make you feel safe about flying? Could this just be the “tip of the iceberg,” like the iceberg that rammed the Titanic, mayhaps? You get the idea.

Okay, that’s the easy PR lesson. Now comes the important part.

In my class I like to quote Henry Ford who said, “Business can’t just be a bonanza,” in other words, it can’t just be about the profit. On my office door hangs a list of what’s called “Seven Deadly Social Sins,” as noted by Gandhi, as in Gandhi Gandhi, the guy in the Ben Kingsley movie…The Mahatma. One of the seven reads thus: “Commerce without morality.” Recall the recent scandal involving American Apparel, sending out an email blast to those in the hurricane’s path about “receiving a 20 percent discount” (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2225812/American-Apparel-sparks-outrage-using-Hurricane-Sandy-devastation-marketing-tool-internet-sale.html) – using a tragedy for marketing purposes.

Perhaps we’re just hearing about these effronteries to good taste and civility more often due to the internet and social media, but it seems to me this sort of thing is on the rise…and some might blame social media for it.

Do a Google search on “social media, narcissism,” and find a link to a bunch “scholarly articles” on the subject. Mass media, the rise of “reality TV” where it seems everyone and anyone can be “a star” gives rise to the notion that everyone SHOULD be a star. Which for me, helps explain the United Airlines’ passenger’s lament, “…you'd think somebody would have rubbed me or pushed me and said, 'Hey buddy, we're here.'’’

I keep thinking about that moment in the “Chinese Restaurant” episode of SEINFELD (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lm8jH4Zh4l0) , as George laments his inability to get a phone hogger of the pay phone so he can make an important call: “We’re living in a society! We’re supposed to act in a civilized way!”

I guess my point is, if our society degenerates into one where it’s all about me-me-me, so self-involved that we adopt a “it’s somebody else’s problem” about everything, then we’re going to have a failed economy, global warming, people fighting each other for a Don’t-Touch-Me- Elmo (I obviously saw the SOUTH PARK 3-part series about Black Friday that addressed this madness so well http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=black+friday+south+park&sm=3), a botched health care system and world where “doing PR” seems about as meaningful as the clichéd rearranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic (wow, two Titanic references in one blog, that’s a record for me). Oh, wait a minute...aren't we living this scenario already?

Or put it another way, if we become a society of jerks, who cares how well they “relate”? I’ll keep the movie references going here; remember the film ANALYZE THIS with Billy Crystal and Robert DeNiro, Crystal the analyst, DeNiro’s the panic-attack stricken mobster who comes to see him? There’s a quote from Crystal (and I'm paraphrasing) about “So what am I doing here, helping him become a more self-actualized, well-adjusted gangster?”

Wading through the morass of stereotypes that typically cast PR people as some sort of Willy Loman-Josepf Goebbels hybrid, the fact of the matter is, we’re not, nor can we in PR, be “just about the PR.” Leaving pop culture for a moment to shift to Shakespeare, the “fault lies not in our stars (reality or otherwise…see what I did there?) but in ourselves.”

If we all strive to be a better people (and that includes me, I don’t hold myself above any of this), to have what Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith (“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HX8aFpnWxPA ) calls “a little looking out for the other fellah,” then we’ll be able to accomplish more as PR professionals, for the betterment of our clients, those groups and individuals they serve, and for ourselves.