We live in an era of spin, constantly being told the same thing from multiple sources. TV stations broadcast taxpayer-paid messages to pass on political propaganda while posing as independent news. Civil servants declare political scare mongering on the hold phase of department telephone help lines. What is going on?
Advertising gurus have said over the years — and my experience absolutely confirms it — that it requires between 10 and 20 exposures of a message for a customer to accept it. That doesn't mean that there is going to be a sale — that additional step requires both a desire for a product or service and the wherewithal to acquire it. But when you're a salesman and you see a potential customer's acceptance, then you're in line to change the accepted interest into something more.
Selling is between people; it always has been, always will be. On a daily basis in retail, potential customers are turned off by service that is too in your face, too lax, too condescending or even downright hostile. This happens even when the customer is really intending to acquire a proffered product. Such behaviors are not the best way to survive in retail. In professional sales, there are similar messages that you must avoid: Don't embarrass the decision maker in front of his or her staff; don't fluff up the product; don't exaggerate corporate capabilities.
But you do have to overcome a major hurdle on many occasions in both situations: want vs. need. A customer's wants are often at a great variance to a customer's needs, which is something that must be gotten over if you want the sale not only to happen but also to “stick.”
The political messages that are now being thrown at us — to sell to us — on a daily basis, particularly from what I would call talk television, are news programs that are on the edge of being merely political forums (or perhaps it's the reverse). They thrive on pre-arranged positioning and phony talk with word repetition by the contributors in order to drive home the message: “Social Security is broke;” “we've turned the corner;” “freedom is on the march.” It is in the style of the advertiser hidden under the guise of an “expert” opinion. How did we let this news advertorial happen? How did we allow the system to be spun at the White House, where phony day passes are given to invented correspondents? How brazen does a system have to be for the majority of us to just look at it and tell ourselves we are being duped and regarded as stupid in the process?
The older, retired network reporters would tell you, now that their jobs are not in jeopardy, that the rise of talk television and its spin is because the networks have failed to do their jobs. It is because the networks have dramatically reduced the number of feet on the ground, relying instead on feeds from the likes of AP, AFP or Reuters. Most local news programming is equally damned. They lead with some national/international agency stories — just to show that the stations are not parochial hacks — then move to some inconsequential local stories (preferably of the man-bites-dog or sob variety) and the inevitable freeway chase in the bigger cities. Then comes the plug for one of the station's shows, followed by sports (why do sports commentators always have such inane smiles?) and, of course, our local weatherman, usually a quasi-meteorologist.
We are driving intelligent people away from domestic broadcasting for their news. The intelligent ones are those who don't mentally link Saddam Hussein and 9/11; those who worry more about Medicare's gargantuan problems rather than Social Security's easily solvable ones; and those who have watched Control Room and realize that the ex-BBC employees at Al Jazeera are making a more honest attempt to bring facts from the battlefield than our networks.
Those who want the complete picture now get their news from the likes of the BBC, London's Daily Telegraph, the amazingly unbiased Christian Science Monitor and, progressively more, from blogs. Unless they wake up, the networks are going to be increasingly marginalized in what they used to do so well.
Paul McGoldrick is an industry consultant based on the West Coast.
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