Poll Position: June PR History

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

This month’s column is dedicated to our Founding Fathers, who, from our earliest days of nationhood, had both the vision and the courage to grant women the right to vote.

Oh wait: This is supposed to be historical.

In that case, we should take a moment to remember June 4, 1919. On that day, the Senate narrowly approved the 19thAmendment, granting women suffrage. (The House had approved it earlier.) Women had taken a huge step toward equality — just 143 years after the Declaration of Independence.

Opposition to the amendment had been intense and could serve as a master class in persuasive – albeit misguided — PR tactics. Some people argued that giving women the right to vote would lead to the end of chivalry, while others maintained it would cause women to stop marrying and having children.

Then, too, women were considered too busy caring for their children and households to deal with such weighty issues. And they certainly lacked the sound reasoning skills of the great male leaders, wise men like Genghis Khan, Stalin and the U.S. Congress.

Indeed, when the Senate had taken up the bill, one member asserted that letting women vote would “place the Government under petticoat rule.” Another legislator stated that women’s suffrage would result in “disaster and ruin” for the country; this, he man-splained, was because men “could never resist the blandishments of women.”1

Often overlooked is how effective the suffragettes’ own PR efforts were —  and how much endured to achieve their goal. They previously had organized a march down Pennsylvania Avenue and protested outside the White House, both times being met with violence. As early as 1916, they had set up a publicity bureau in D.C. so they could lobby Congressmen in person. And hide their remote controls.

Notably, at least some of the media coverage was balanced. The day after the vote, the New York Times announced that, “Suffrage Wins In Senate, Now Goes To States,” with the article stating that women had prevailed “After a long and persistent fight.” There was no other media coverage that day, but only because the night before, all of the nations’ women had refused to do laundry, pack lunches and get the kids off to school, leaving their helpless husbands stuck at home.

The journey to ratification would be perilous and drag out over 14 months. But if that seems a little slow, it’s worth remembering how long women had waited just to get this far. After all, Wyoming had granted women the right to vote back in 1869. And they’re not even in the Big XII.

Today, the arguments against women’s suffrage seem both quaint and offensive. But it’s worth remembering how widespread those ideas once were, and how hard it was to overcome them. It’s also worth remembering that sometimes, a campaign to win over public sentiment is less about the facts and more about, well, the sentiment.

1 Blandishment (n.): A flattering or pleasing statement or action used to gently persuade someone to do something. Like put the toilet seat down.

 

Join us for our next GFW PRSA luncheon on Wednesday, June 12, at Colonial Country Club!

Employees are the center of our world in internal communications, but have you ever thought about treating them like a consumer? They are “buying” your company culture, priorities and mission. Join us on Wednesday, June 12 to hear from Crystal Forester, Senior Communications Manager, GM Financial, on how to leverage consumer marketing tactics to engage your employees.

When: Wednesday, June 12, 2019, 11:30 A.M.  – 1:00 P.M.

Where: Colonial Country Club

Register here. 

Join us for our next GFW PRSA luncheon on Wednesday, May 8, at Colonial Country Club!

Join us for the next GFW PRSA luncheon, Wednesday, May 8, featuring guest speaker, Kim Speairs, APR, MBA, PCCA Director of Communications and Engagement.
 
Culture can be a major competitive advantage in a tight economy and even tighter job market. A company’s culture drives people’s behavior, engagement, innovation, customer service and its overall profitability. And yet, many companies are not dedicating the time or resources to define and foster it. In this workshop, we’ll explore how and why you – as a public relations and communications professional – can develop and help drive team engagement throughout your organization. We’ll look at how and where to initiate the conversations, how to gather the insights you need and ways to put a plan into action.

When: Wednesday, May 8, 2019, 11:30 A.M.  – 1:00 P.M.

Where: Colonial Country Club

Register here. 

He Just Needs Some Space: April PR History

Written by: Jeff Rodriguez, Historian

Nobody really wants to look at your travel pictures. And this was particularly true on April 12, 1961, when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin successfully completed the first orbit of Earth. Gagarin’s flight thrilled the Communists – but terrified just about everyone else.

The U.S. was already fretting about the space race, as the Soviets had successfully launched the first satellite. Gagarin’s orbit was even more humiliating, especially since his flight took off on time.

Afterward, a Soviet scientist declared that Gagarin’s trip “shook the world.” And indeed, he wasn’t exaggerating. The flight was banner news on virtually every newspaper, with headlines like, “Soviet Man Orbits, Returns to Earth.”

Some publications had a more political angle. The Daily Worker, a pro-Communist U.S. paper, announced, “A Communist in Space,” while a paper with a slightly different perspective declared, “REDS ORBIT MAN.” The Christian Science Monitor struck a metaphysical tone, observing, “Man Leaps Free of Earth Shackles,” while Time magazine’s cover illustration of Gagarin included a Soviet hammer and sickle – in flight.

On television, ABC News intoned that “all of Russia was going wild,” and then discussed in detail how the Soviets were already planning a flight to the moon, where their female athletes could train in total secrecy.

In D.C, President Kennedy was desperate to find people who could help the U.S. catch up. “Let’s find somebody, anybody,” he said.” I don’t care if it’s the janitor over there, if he knows how.” The next month, Kennedy announced that the U.S. should set a goal to get a man to the moon before the end of the decade. In making the announcement, JFK abandoned his original campaign promise to eliminate potholes in America, a goal that continues to elude our brightest minds.

Fortunately, the U.S. marshaled its resources and responded brilliantly: In the years to come, we would complete many important space projects, including Star Trek, Apollo 13, All the Right Stuff and creating an entire planet of Ewoks.

It makes you proud to be an American. And proud to be a PR pro, as well. Because when it’s time to celebrate a client’s achievements, we know how to build ‘em, launch ’em and land ’em. And of course, the view is spectacular.

Join us for our next GFW PRSA luncheon on Wednesday, April 10, at Colonial Country Club!

Over the past two decades, companies like Microsoft, State Farm, and Johnson & Johnson have used an understanding of customer jobs to create breakthrough innovations. A focus on the customer job has helped them to see beyond how things are done today to understand the value that customers seek.

In this talk, Lance Bettencourt, professor of marketing at TCU and one of the leading experts on jobs-to-be-done thinking, will demonstrate the power of a jobs-to-be-done lens for shaping thinking about how public relations can and should offer value. Drawing from real examples, he will challenge the audience to see the value of PR not in what it does, but in the impact it should have.

When: Wednesday, April 10, 2019, 11:30 A.M.  – 1:00 P.M.

Where: Colonial Country Club

Register here.