Art & Commerce: Public Persona

I went to a backyard barbecue last week and was attacked by a dentist. He is one of those guys who thinks he’s always right. To call him a little pompous is like calling New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani a little prickly. Doesn’t quite capture the experience.
When the tooth doctor found out what I write about, I got a verbal root canal. It was the usual balderdash about how ads brainwash people, including rich dentists in Westchester County hypnotized by nasty, malevolent ad crafters to buy a Lexus and ugly golf clothes.
It wasn’t his tone that compelled me to mention his hostility, but its content. Unlike the usual layperson rant, which focuses on advertising’s images, i.e., creative, this one zeroed in on the media mix itself.
Dr. Demento wasn’t just repeating that hoary complaint about advertising’s ubiquity. He made no distinction between content and delivery vehicle. In his mind, the media buy was as guilty as the
creative output for commerce encroaching on his personal life.
He believed–no, he demanded–that those who choose and buy the media be as responsible as those who create the ads. This point of view gave me pause.
We’re so used to advertising being attacked by ill-informed consumers that it’s startling to hear the process itself getting whacked.
Given the attention media has been getting in the trades and business press, it’s seeped into the zeitgeist. The flip side of being out in front is that you’re the first one to get hit when the great American cultural circus starts throwing tomatoes.
Perhaps it’s time media executives began to consider their public image as well as crow about how cool it is to be “the largest media specialist on the planet and maybe the whole cosmos, too, depending on whose billings level you choose to believe.”
Public service campaigns about the liberating effects of media choice for consumers might be worth funding. Or maybe we need more concentrated, considered public discussion about the role media specialists play in the new media world, such as giving us interactivity and instant communication.
Could it be that the media side, for all its recent successes and unprecedented high profile, could use some good, old-fashioned PR?
Sure it could.
After all, if creative shops can get press in Newsweek and on Entertainment Tonight because of talking dogs and lizards, beer guzzlers growling like cavemen and other ephemera, certainly media shops can steal a bit of the spotlight to talk about the way we’ll connect with each other in the future.
Advertising’s media side has largely been spared raucous criticism about the evil influence of paid persuasion from talk shows, loony professors and the like. But if my recent encounter with the Human Drill is any indication, that is about to change.
Media needs a pre-emptive PR strike. Because as everyone knows, making a reputation is relatively easy. Trying to change a bad one is like pulling teeth. K