Controlling the message is a key component of any marketing and public relations campaign. In fact, it’s the only barometer for determining the success of a campaign. The challenge is what appeals and frustrates many who get involved in PR and marketing campaigns.
But wherever the human element is involved, things can go wrong. Try as we may, sometimes things go wrong, even for the big dogs.
NPR aired a good example of the unexpected loss of message control on Sept. 26. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter went on a fishing trip when he had to battle a swamp rabbit. (Yes, there are such things.) Carter fended off the invader seeking to join him on the fishing boat, but not the bad press that followed. Some say it started his descent toward losing to Ronald Reagan in 1980.
The story got out because a press office employee at the White House told an Associated Press reporter, who wrote a short story. The Washington Post ran a story on its front page. As usual, others followed.
Despite their obvious frustration, the White House kept battling. Officials, right or wrong, prevented the release of photos of the president-animal exchange, caught by a White House photographer, to the anxious media. The pictures would have further eroded the public’s support of Carter. (The NPR story likens the situation to what is happening to Barack Obama.)
The lesson to be learned is that no media campaign is perfect. And sometimes, the least likely thing gets publicized. Carter’s staff faced the facts and kept battling. And sometimes, that’s all that can be done once the press gets hold of something like a swamp rabbit story.