Reportedly, two million Americans will travel by air over the Thanksgiving long weekend. That’s a small percentage of the nation. But, it’s a safe bet that around virtually every dinner table, families will be talking about the new security rules that have caused more pre-holiday “buzz” than any Black Friday sale.
The new “empty your pockets and be full body scanned or face an intrusive patdown” policy had led headline writers to refer to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration as the “embattled TSA.” Anytime the media routinely puts the word “embattled” before your title or organization name, then it’s obviously you have a Public Relations problem.
The PR lesson here is simple. No unit of the Federal Government – no cabinet secretary, no spokesperson, no press release – has adequately explained WHY the equipment, procedures and rules are in place. Nobody attempted to sell this to the public. Nobody has convinced us that all of this can prevent a terrorist attack.
There’s an adage I learned early in my career that “If you don’t speak for yourself, other will speak for you.” Because the Government has not made its case, then would-be protestors and self-proclaimed passenger advocates, as well as those who have experienced patdown horror stories, are controlling the dialogue. If we don’t understand something, how can we possibly support it?
Then again, these are the same Government agencies that still have not explained to us why the Ziploc bag can be the greatest weapon in the War on Terror (if the stuff is in your luggage, does a plastic bag really help?). So, this holiday season, regardless of the challenge you face as a communicator, be thankful you don’t work for the TSA, where you would be the victim of a bureaucracy that can’t tell its story.
What am I thankful for? The First Amendment. Without it, I couldn’t have written this blog entry or even pursue my chosen career. That’s something that should never be taken for granted. Happy Thanksgiving from the Tanner Friedman Team.