Editorial: Can Straight Talk avoid a spin out?

When John McCain arrived in South Carolina in the wee hours of the morning earlier this month after his upset victory over Gov. George W Bush, a throng of cheering college kids was there to greet him. The students know Vietnam only through history books and Hollywood, but they, along with thousands more, are now eager to jump on board McCain’s ’Straight Talk Express.’

When John McCain arrived in South Carolina in the wee hours of the morning earlier this month after his upset victory over Gov. George W Bush, a throng of cheering college kids was there to greet him. The students know Vietnam only through history books and Hollywood, but they, along with thousands more, are now eager to jump on board McCain’s ’Straight Talk Express.’

When John McCain arrived in South Carolina in the wee hours of the

morning earlier this month after his upset victory over Gov. George W

Bush, a throng of cheering college kids was there to greet him. The

students know Vietnam only through history books and Hollywood, but

they, along with thousands more, are now eager to jump on board McCain’s

’Straight Talk Express.’



Hours later, the ’W’ appeared at Bob Jones University - a school famous

for banning interracial dating - where he used Dan Quayle to back up his

claim that he was ready to be president. Dan Quayle? He may as well have

brought in John Rocker to talk about his commitment to minorities and

women.



While it’s clear that the GOP nomination race is far from over, there is

no doubt McCain is winning the PR battle in a big way. A study by the

Project for Excellence in Journalism found that McCain was the most

successful of the Republicans in controlling his coverage, in that

stories about him were candidate- and idea-driven. The study also found

McCain to be more accessible to the press. Meanwhile, Bush is coming

across as arrogant and uncommunicative - ’coronation’ was the most

popular word.



McCain is successfully giving the impression that a vote for him is a

vote for politics without spin, even while he has ducked difficult

questions.



But now that McCain has gone from maverick underdog to contender, will

his PR strategy shift? Word is that McCain’s bull sessions with

reporters on board his campaign bus have become more structured, with

savvy strategist Mike Murphy there to correct, clarify and condense

McCain’s off-the-cuff ramblings. Will the straight talk get skewed?

McCain better hope not.



BLS could use help counting pros



Just how many PR pros are there? A new report by the Bureau of Labor

Statistics suggests a figure of 190,000 in 1999, up 12%.



If this is true, it’s no wonder there’s a shortage of talent. PR

spending grew 30% in 1999, for example (Source: Harris Survey, September

1999).



But are these numbers really correct? The sample of 50,000 households

from which these figures are estimated is relatively small.



Another survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this time of 400,000

employees, puts the number of pros practicing PR in 1998 at a far lower

level - 98,240 - with the increase also lower, up 7% from 1997.



The problem with this survey is that its definition of PR as a ’PR

specialist or publicity writer’ seems narrow; while in another

statistic, it lumps PR in with marketing and advertising (and comes up

with a figure of 485,000 in 1998, up just a fraction from the 1996

figure).



Adding to the muddle, BLS estimates from these two surveys that PR

specialists and/or publicity writers who are under the ’Writer’ category

increased by 11% to 122,300 in 1998. Does the BLS know what it’s talking

about?



The only thing that is clear is that industry associations like the PRSA

and IABC need to help the BLS sort out this confusion. One bit of

progress: the BLS Handbook for 2002-3 will have distinct categories for

PR, marketing and advertising. But either a bigger sample - or a better

definition - is vital.



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