Relax. This isn’t a rant. It’s a two-pronged lesson in public relations brought to you by a group in which I hold a membership card. Arrgh!
Here’s hoping the NRA is among the 20% who regularly monitor blogs. It’ll save me sending a nasty email to complain about the group’s public relations “attack-tics.” This is one NRA member who’s had enough.
What triggers my post today is the NRA’s recent attack on Jim Zumbo, long-time hunting writer and sportsman. I own two of Jim’s books and have benefited from his outdoor wisdom. But thanks to a “slip of the blog” and the swiftness of the pro-gun propaganda machine, Jim’s 40-year run may be over.
Jim’s misstep was a fairly innocent blog post that said sportsmen really don’t need weapons like the rapid-fire AR15 rifle to pop prairie dogs and other varmints. It just isn’t sporting, he said. But it was his unfortunate choice of words that sealed his fate.
Some excerpts from Jim’s post about AR15 rifles:
Excuse me, maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity. I’ll go so far as to call them “terrorist” rifles. Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting. We don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them, which is an obvious concern.
He went on to say:
As hunters, we don’t need the image of walking around the woods carrying one of these weapons. To most of the public, an assault rifle is a terrifying thing. Let’s divorce ourselves from them. I say game departments should ban them from the praries (sic) and woods.
For the full text of Zumbo’s post and his follow-up mea culpa: Hunting Sense.
PR lesson No. 1: Honest blogging can be hazardous to your career.
Jim, Jim, Jim. You never, never, never use the “B” word when talking to gun advocates. You know that. In NRA circles, no one supports banning anything except gun-grabbing politicians. You also don’t use the term “assault weapon,” let alone “terrorist rifle.” They’re just rifles, Jim, plain old rifles. You’ve been hanging with these guys for 40 years, Jim. You know what sets them off.
Had Zumbo written the passage for an Outdoor Life article, his editor would’ve shifted to more gun-friendly semantics. But when we blog, we tend to blog alone. In Jim’s case, a 250-word post became his career-ending move.
Here’s a summary of the consequences, lifted from a New York Times editorial aptly titled, “Overkill.”
Even though Mr. Zumbo quickly disavowed his words and apologized, he lost his blog, was dumped by Outdoor Life magazine and was disowned by the National Rifle Association, after 40 years of membership. His corporate sponsors, including the gunmaker Remington, ditched him. His cable show was canceled. The N.R.A. issued a chilling statement warning Congress to take heed of Mr. Zumbo’s fate. By the time Blaine Harden told his story in The Washington Post, Mr. Zumbo was professionally dead.
To keep things fair, here are statements from the NRA, Remington, and Outdoor Life. It clearly pained OL’s Todd Smith to be part of Jim’s demise, but to stand by his friend would almost certainly brought him a similar fate.
Smith chose not to take that risk. So did Remington officials who, threatened with a boycott by the gun bloggers, also decided to cut and run. The Outdoor Channel felt pressure from its advertisers, all of whom were staring down the barrel of a pro-gun army hellbent on taking out Zumbo.
PR Lesson No. 2: Blogs are fast and effective weapons.
While I don’t condone what the NRA and its legion of bloggers have done, I’m kind of in awe of it. The NRA and its many supporting groups understand grassroots campaigns and how to drive them with emotional words, threatening tones, and the speed of Web 2.0.
And of course, when the gun blogs get to blazing away, it’s not long before the MSM hops on for the ride. While most mainstream media aren’t sympathetic to the NRA, they’re more than willing to report the blog craziness and, in turn, to fan the flames. We learned that last week at Kent State, didn’t we?
If you come here often, you know this blog isn’t about guns or politics. It’s about a 2-way communication model of public relations. I believe in this symmetrical view of communication, because I’ve seen it work. The NRA believes in 1-way PR modeled after the propagandists of old. It works by destroying all in its path — friend and foe — and listening to no one but itself.