PR lessons of Occupy and 99

 Enough has been written about police response to protests at UC-Davis last weekend, so I won’t pile on. If you’re the one person who’s not seen these powerful images, please watch this one-minute clip.

What appeared initially to be a leaderless and disorganized movement is working like a charm. And some PR professionals can’t understand why.

It’s called a groundswell. And elected officials seem intent on silencing it. Good luck, fellas. So far, the protests have been reasonably peaceful — mostly civil disobedience in the tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. But that will change.

Too many Americans remain in denial about our state of affairs — baffled by the party propaganda machines and nitwits like Grover Norquist. They dismiss “The 99 Percent”  and “Occupy” as a bunch of unemployed malcontents.

Guess again. As the movement grows roots, it’s picking up a lot of savvy leaders and fine tuning its messages. Occupy and 99 are effective and motivated groups. We’re all listening, if only because the volume is cranked up to “10.”

Occupy and 99 are case studies that traditional PR people can’t get their heads around. There was no research, no planning, no evaluation of outcomes. These movements just happened — a reaction of those ignored by a dysfunctional system.

Revolutions are like that.

Power to the People

I had it all wrong at the outset. Count me among the PR professionals who criticized Occupy” as a #PRFail — a rudderless movement without goals or strategy. Then a guy who’s way smarter than I called me out.

Thank you, Tom Foremski. I get it now.  What I forgot, sitting here my ivory tower in Kent, Ohio, is that groundswell movements don’t necessarily require leaders. They grow organically and quickly — in this case fertilized by tons of manure spread by Congress, Wall Street and the Tea Party.

The triggering event

Students of PR process will see the UC-Davis pepper spray incident as a classic triggering event — a trip wire with the power to move people from a state of latent readiness to a state of action. Established authority is attempting to quell the uprising. But the more these protests gain momentum, the less powerful chemicals and night sticks become.

What comes after the pepper spray and the teargas? You know the answer.  Any student of history knows. But I sense that most of our elected officials didn’t make it to history class.

I’m not part of the 1%, but I do OK in this life. I have money in the bank and a new truck in the garage. But I didn’t skip history or philosophy class. As a result, I’ve come to understand the value of social responsibility and distributive justice.

It’s too early to say if movements like Occupy and 99 will actually galvanize public opinion. But PR professionals counseling management are wise listen to groundswell. Think about how it will affect your clients and employers. How will you respond?

I’m 99% certain the answer lies in a renewed commitment to social responsibility in both the public and private sectors. As hokey as it sounds, people must come before profits. Nothing else is sustainable. Call it socialism if you must, but it beats becoming a third-world nation.

If we don’t reset priorities — and soon — let me suggest you forget that PR career and begin stockpiling ammo. It’s gonna get rough out there.

6 thoughts on “PR lessons of Occupy and 99

  1. I think the conclusion’s a bit of a stretch, but framing the issue as 1/99% has been a success. The point is that people are (rightfully) pissed. The last place I’d look to for guidance here is PRSA and the PR profession in general; PR can inform responses, but it suffers limitations easily surpassed by students/protestors emboldened by abuse. Hope you saw my post this a.m.:


    • Bob,

      I call ’em as I see ’em. Agree that TP began grassroots, but then became corrupted by the GOP. But the solutions of offered by TP are unrealistic, much like those espoused by Grover Norquist. None of this is central to the post, but I didn’t want to ignore your comment. Thanks for dropping by.

  2. How do you figure that the TEA party is part of the problem? It seems to me that they were a similar groundswell that has since found a direction. People need to come before government corruption as well as profits. Other than picking fights with the police, I don’t see any of the Occupiers protesting the government.

    • Just callin’ ’em as I seem ’em, Ron. You are correct. TP was a grassroots movement, but has since been co-opted by the Republicans — who need TP votes to win a majority. Bottom line on the TP? Unrealistic positions that simply can’t work. The leaders skipped economics class.

      You gotta say this about Occupy and 99, they’re really not making any crazy demands. They’re just pointing out that the system is dysfunctional. And we’re listening by the millions and nodding our heads. That’s a PR win.

    • Point taken, Ron. I’ll revise it to “Keynesian Economics.” It’s the Friedman followers who screwed things up. Or was it the Machiavellians? I get the two confused :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *