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Archive of ‘You’re Doing it Wrong’ category

PR Tidbits – A&E: You’re Doing It Wrong

Back in college my PR professor started giving us a standing assignment for our classes that we called “PR Tidbits.” We were supposed to come to class with 1 example of a situation in which we saw good or bad PR practices being exercised, and be ready to discuss it a little – saying what went well or wrong, and how they could have better handled it or any other opportunities we saw to improve upon it. It started out in the 100-level courses as a way to get students to recognize the role of PR in our lives – many didn’t recognize how essential PR was to most everything that surrounded us in the news, media and culture. Eventually each of us came in to class each day with so many examples of, and opinions on, good and bad PR by companies and pop-culture personalities that we could spend the entire class time discussing them.

I still often think of our “PR Tidbit” exercise – mostly when I see something go so horribly wrong that all I can do is want to find whatever agency or person is representing those people or that organization and just shake them. I actually often think of an imagined interaction going much like a V8 commercial. –>

Working in PR professionally, we sometimes talk about some of these gaffes and epic wins at work, but most of the time we’re so focused on executing what we’re doing for our clients well that we don’t have much time to discuss them. For sure we share them on social media, but mostly I complain about them to my husband – which he suffers through mostly (love you, honey). But since the internet is the homebase of rants and raves, I figured the best place to unload about these types of things was right here!

Recently Phil Robertson – of the “Duck Dynasty“…well…dynasty – gave an interview to GQ magazine in which he expressed many of his Christian beliefs, one of which being that homosexuality is a sin. This interview was probably not unlike many others he’s given to numerous other media outlets, but none of those outlets were probably big enough (or liberal enough) for an organization like GLAAD to notice and to make a public statement in response. Their response called out A&E, the network that carries the show, to re-examine (i.e., cut) their ties with him because of what he said. When asked about the matter after GLAAD’s statement, A&E first issued a follow-up statement from Mr. Robertson that gave an explanation for why he said what he said, but then the network came back and condemned his remarks in the interview and stated that they would be placing him on hiatus from the current season’s filming of the show indefinitely. (Here’s a fairly non-bias recap of the situation, including most statements made.)

A&E: You’re doing it wrong.

Now before the flamethrowers come out (from either side) I will state that I probably share many opinions with Mr. Robertson, but this is not one of them. I consider myself a Christian, but ideologically we differ in this area. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

But even having a differing opinion than him, I can see that by suspending Phil’s involvement with the show, A&E is 1) changing the dynamic of a well-loved show where Phil is a main component – especially being the patriarch of the family and the company that is well-liked by many, many people, and 2) is alienating probably the majority of the show’s viewers.

Anyone who has watched the show should be able to discern that the Robertson family are Christians, and probably conservatively so. Most people with any cultural reference could also infer that they are republicans even. They hunt, they wear camo, they really like their guns and they even refer to themselves affectionately as “redneck,” in opposition to the “yuppies.” Each episode ends with a family praying around their dining table – a scene that probably doesn’t even often take place in the homes of the people that watch the show, but that those people that watch the show can appreciate.

Now the people who are really into the show and the family that makes up the wacky “cast” of characters, they probably also know that the oldest Robertson son was a pastor for many, many years, that the cast often makes appearances at churches, that Willie’s teenage daughter Sadie does a weekly YouTube series with a friend called “The New Different” that focuses on living a life focused on God rather than worldly things, and that overall the family is a conservative Christian family dedicated to living their faith.

These people that know these things are probably also the people that buy the Duck Dynasty and Duck Commander merchandise – in other words, the people pumping the most money back into the Duck Dynasty machine. These are people who also like to hunt, to wear camo, to own guns and might even refer to themselves as redneck. And even if these people don’t agree with Phil Robertson’s view on homosexuality, I can tell you one thing – these people probably really love their right to free speech (*Edited to add: Of course he was an at-will employee and A&E has every right to fire him due to his remarks if they want to – but most people probably won’t see it that way, instead probably seeing it as discrimination for his comments/discrimination against conservative Christian beliefs).

Now I could see the dilemma if A&E aired this show as an outlier and it just happened to have really random great success on their network. They might feel the pressure to come out against the statement and the show if it put a large percentage of their other shows at odds with it or alienated the audiences of these other shows. But their other shows consist of material that is most likely attractive to the same audience that adores Duck Dynasty. A sample of some of their most popular or current shows include Rodeo Girls, the series of Storage Wars shows, including Storage Wars: Texas, Longmire, American Hoggers…noticing a pattern here? Hell, the History channel, which is an A&E network, has a show called God, Guns & Automobiles.

Now A&E knew that the Robertson family’s faith would have to be a part of the show coming into the deal with them. Here’s a quote from the GQ article…

And then, of course, there is their faith, which plays no small role here. During the family鈥檚 initial negotiations about the show with A&E, Jase told me, 鈥渢he three no-compromises were faith, betrayal of family members, and duck season.鈥 That refusal to betray their faith or one another has been a staple of every media article about the Robertson family.聽It鈥檚 their elevator pitch, and it has made them into ideal Christian icons: beloved for staking out a bit of holy ground within the mostly secular, often downright sinful, pop culture of America. –GQ

And although A&E has managed to keep mentions of faith in the show on the wholesome level rather than ideological or politically motivated, the content that has aired dealing with their faith has still managed to not repel the millions of viewers that tune in to the show. And Phil made these comments in an interview, not on the show.

So A&E, where’s the problem with Phil’s participation in the show? And why do you think suspending him indefinitely was a good business move?

Anyone else have an opinion on A&E’s decision? Now, I said an opinion on their decision, not a flamethrowing rant on homosexuality or sin in modern culture, etc. Let’s keep the comments to the subject of the examination of a PR fail or win… :)

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