Its all about SPIN : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


By Charlie Register August 2, 1999

As a venerable public relations professor once put it, "A successful public relations campaign can often be compared to the performance by a good strip-tease artist. A really talented, classy dancer, like that of the Burlesque era, has a way of revealing less in her act than you think you saw."

With questions as to the depth of his research into this topic put aside, the point was unmistakably clear. It's the dance that sells the audience on the idea of being revealing, without actually doing so.

With that in mind, we read in a story last week by Isadore Barmash for Reuters that a number of America's largest public relations firms are setting up teams to help companies to deal with customers' fear over what might happen when the Year 2000 Problem kicks in full force. Barmash wrote: "Some of the nation's top image-making firms are preparing to ease your (Y2K) fears -- to explain them away or make you forget them. It's a byproduct of what many American corporations are calling 'crisis preparedness.'" To "explain them away or make you forget them." How is that done? "At Burson-Marsteller, Christopher P.A. Komisarjevsky, chief executive officer said, 'We believe that Y2K has the potential to be a major disruption for companies dealing with the public even if not a single computer malfunctions on New Year's Day. That's because the "millennium bug" is no longer just a problem of technology but one of perception, too.'"

"Noting that 'irrational behaviour' can disrupt fourth-quarter business and hurt profits at thousands of companies, he said, 'the solution lies in guiding public perceptions and creating informed opinion now rather than letting uninformed opinion take the upper hand in coming months. That's where we come in.'" Part of the millennium bug has always been a matter of perception, because concern has been centered on not the failures themselves, but public reaction to failures.

This is key. Had early on there been a devoted public-relations media campaign of preparedness building as a necessary safeguard, chances are people would have managed through the transition with minimal difficulties. But this is not now the campaign to expect in the latter days of this year. More likely we should we expect to hear just enough for us to hopefully conclude that enough is being done to "take care" of the problem, but little more.

The real and maybe unanswerable question is whether evidence is now available to conclude that the necessary Y2K mitigation techniques are in place so that the Y2K threat can be significantly downplayed. And if there are enough contingencies in place, wouldn't it then be in the best public relations practices to use that information to dissuade the more apocalyptic concerns?

It is an almost accepted axiom in the business that "everything is public relations, but public relations is not everything." It's the concept of substance behind the symbolism. Some in the PR community may argue that this is the intent of this upcoming campaign, to provide as much information as possible. But no matter how revealing, they'll maintain, you can't satisfy the concerns of everyone, for there will always be doubters.

Maybe so, but convince the skeptic and you've convinced the lot. Oddly, though, as the skeptics are yet to be convinced, polls show the lot is not equally concerned. Nearly 70 percent are so confident about Y2K at this point that they are not considering stocking up in case of computer-related problems.

The general lack of national concern about the Y2K Problem may stem from the unsolicited boosts these newly directed public relations firms are getting from such notables as Intel's Craig Barrett. Consider this passage from a recent Information Week story: "Y2K? What Y2K? Intel CEO Craig Barrett says the fear of Y2K is a media creation. 'It's been hugely popularized by the press because the press likes chaos and crises to write about,' Barrett says. 'There may well be some impact in obscure places in the world, which have essentially zero impact on the world economy --it's going to be a nonevent for us.'"

Polls, mind you, are still equally as volatile as the stock market. If you think otherwise, then consider how many head-to-head polls have been done on the yet to be nominated Year 2000 Presidential candidates. It's still too early to catch the dancer's finale.

So how revealing will the "dance" be the coming weeks and months? Chances are good we should expect a good tease. Does this mean there's something to hide? The ultimate reality may be that company decision-makers fear that if their heavily laden contingency plans are revealed to the public, panic would ensue. If plans for the worst are revealed, then the public will conclude companies are really expecting the worse.

If this is the case, then it demonstrates a lack of business/government trust in the public to act responsibly. If businesses/governments do have something to hide, when failures do occur, then turnabout will be fair play for the public.

Where does the media fit into this? It's their hall that has been reserved for the dance and it's their responsibility that their customers see the show they came for. But media must understand this show is not for entertainment purposes only, it's for real. They've got some of their own "uncovering " work yet to do. So let the dance begin.

-- y2k dave (, August 02, 1999


Q: Why was JFK Jr. never a politcian?

A: He did not have good SPIN CONTROL!

-- Its (, August 02, 1999.

Thanks, Dave, for the input.

I've been thinking about this since March or April, and I haven't been surprised at anything yet this year (except maybe the Kia bank run commercial). In the end, this is what can only be expected. But, at the same time this is exactly how you get worst case scenario. If the bug bites are large and obvious after a spin campaign which we are about to see, people will not only be caught off guard and unprepared, they will also be mad. Once this course is set, Y2k problems had better be very local, very temporary, and irregular or there will be hell to pay.

-- Jim the Window Washer (, August 02, 1999.

Good topic to post on. Saw a PBS documentary hosted by Bill Moyers a while back on Free spech for sale or some such title. One key point was the huge concentration of media in just a few hands -- hands that were essentially corporate, marketing companies/associations. The documentary gave examples of how this affects bias, slant, ect. Seems to me our country would be better off if ownership of media were not allowed to concentrate so...but any "solution" would surely be a quagmire in short order with today's political realities, I suspect.

One other point was how our society seems to be more and more a bunch of "trained/shaped consumers" rather than "educated citizens". Very scary to me indeed -- especially with what little I know about "mob psychology"....kind of reminds me of a "dormant" earth quake fault...what's that distant rumbling...just an "energy buildup"?

-- Louis (, August 02, 1999.

Louis makes a good "One other point [about how] our society seems to be more and more a bunch of "trained/shaped consumers" rather than "educated citizens".

Anybody remember when we started being referred to as "consumers" as opposed to "customers," let alone "citizens?" Was it about the same time that "personnel" became "human resources." And when war analogies became popular for promoting programs (war on poverty, war on drugs)?

Watch out for your hyperbole. Language directs thought, not the other way around.


"What we need to understand may only be expressible in a language that we do not know."---Tony Judge

-- (, August 03, 1999.

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