Appearances matter. I would have thought public figures and CEOs of major corporations would understand that, but apparently they don’t. Just look at the latest snafu: The CEO of Merrill Lynch (the same Merrill Lynch getting bailed out by taxpayers) asked for a $10 million bonus this week. Now I’m sure this guy thinks he deserves $10 million–heck, some days I think *I* deserve $20 million. But do you think he considered for one minute how it would look, putting in a request like that at a time like this? Now, he’s getting pilloried by everybody from federal lawmakers to CNN’s Campbell Brown.
What baffles me the most is that so many of these folks have missed opportunities to not only avoid bad publicity but generate GREAT press for themselves. I have a background in journalism and public relations. More important, I’m a working mom, and I like to think that when my solid Midwestern ancestors were handing out common sense, they gave me a good healthy dose. So it pains me to think about what might have been.
What if, instead of flying to Washington in private jets to beg for bailout money, the CEOs of GM, Chrysler and Ford had decided to road trip in the first place? They could have gone to the press and milked it for all it was worth, showcasing how awesome and worthy of saving their new models are. They could have blogged and Twittered from the road–just three ordinary dudes stopping at Denny’s for pancakes and a pee break. They could even have invited one or two of their line workers along, showing lawmakers the real faces of those who could lose their jobs without a bailout. The message: “We’re all in this together.”
And what if, instead of going on a multi-hundred-thousand-dollar shopping spree to Neiman Marcus and other high-end retailers, VP candidate Sarah Palin had invited reporters to accompany her while she purchased her campaign wardrobe at JC Penney or even Ann Taylor? Now *that* says, “I get where you’re coming from, America. I’m just like you.” Part of me wonders if a publicity stunt like that couldn’t have made a small difference in how the election turned out.
And you know what? It would have been a publicity stunt. Of course it would. But these days, appearances mean a lot. And by simply making the effort to consider how they come across, some of these public figures could learn something about how the rest of us live and feel. Because at this moment in time, that’s really, really important. The fat cats have been able to get by so far without caring what a working mom like me thinks (unless they decided I was a hot target who might purchase their goods and services). But now, they’re asking for MY money. They want to mortgage my child’s future to help clean up messes they made. They darned well better care about what I think.
And so, I’m considering starting my own PR consulting business. I’ll call it something like, “Ask a Working Mom.” Companies who need to beg for public funding or otherwise appeal to regular working people can give me a ring. I not only will give them advice on what *not* to do, I’ll come up with some cool ideas for ways they can actually win brownie points. I won’t charge near as much as a big PR firm; all I want is to pay for my child’s pre-school, put food on the table, be able to pay my mortgage and maybe go on a date with my husband to a restaurant that doesn’t require me to bus my own table. (I’m only half kidding here!)
So, CEOs, have your people call my people–or just send an email. I’ll help you stay off Saturday Night Live and stay on the shrinking list of corporations that at least appear to “get it.”