Understanding pr tsa

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Understanding pr tsa

  1. 1. Understanding PR: The Real Lesson of the TSA and Pat Downs<br />22. NOVEMBER 2010 | POSTED IN FEATURED CONTENT, INSIGHTS & ANALYSIS, LEADERSHIP | BY DOUG PORETZ<br />Enterprises are getting a world-class lesson in PR courtesy of the TSA in the wake of the pat-down controversy.<br />To understand this lesson, it doesn’t really matter if you are a fan of pat-downs at US airports or not, or even if you hate the idea but are willing to go through the process for the sake of a safer world. The core lesson is this: launching a PR campaign is a counter-productive distraction when trying to polish the image of what is a bad idea in the first place.On November 18, as the pat-down controversy gained the momentum that has made it a front-page story and has kept it in the news (which will likely be the case for a while now), the TSA responded with a post at The TSA Blog entitled “Pat-downs Myths & Facts.” This is formatted as a Q&A, which lacks credibility, by definition, when the one asking the questions is the same as the one answering the questions.<br />With 40+ years experience in communications at senior levels, I think there is a major problem with the TSA’s PR approach: it’s trying to defend a policy that is wrong in the first place. But before I get to that issue, I don’t want to dismiss the opportunity of taking a shot at the TSA’s posting. Why? Well, because it is just too easy to make the case that the people responsible for this are (let’s be nice) naïve.<br />Given all the attention pat-downs have received in the past few days, one would think that the TSA would at least present a formidable case in its effort to debunk myths. Instead, the TSA addresses only six myths, each of them answered qualitatively. The first myth they choose to debunk is that children will receive pat-downs. The answer: TSA officers will work with parents to ensure “a respectful screening process for the entire family,” and children under 12, if they need to be patted-down in the opinion of the TSA, will have a private screening with a travel companion. Good shot TSA – you hit it out of the park.<br />Let’s move on. The TSA also addresses the issue of whether pat-downs are invasive. They put that myth to bed with three sentences: 1) pat-downs happen only when there is a reason, 2) the pat-downs are conducted to keep the public safe, and 3) pat-downs are performed by the same-gender as the passengers. Think that really addresses the issue of whether they are “invasive” or not, which is the myth the TSA is trying to debunk in this instance? Actually, I think their answer has not one thing to do with the invasive nature of the pat-downs, and that they dodged their own question.<br />The most troublesome of the myths they try to debunk is that “complaints about the pat-downs are extremely high.” Their three sentence response to that issue: 2 million people fly in the US every day and “The number of complaints is very low.” The troubling part of that answer is how the TSA defines “very low.” At its official web site, the TSA argues that polling by various organizations “demonstrate strong public support and understanding for the need for advanced imaging technology.” To prove that point, they cite a variety of polls that assert that between 79-81% of airline passengers support the pat-down policy. That leaves about 20% of the travelling public who do not support the policy. Well, 20% is less than the 80% who support the policy, but who would suggest that 20% of anybody against anything was a “very low” figure – especially when 20% of 2 million daily travelers are 400,000. Come on.<br />But here is the biggest lesson we can learn from the TSA’s bungling and inept PR campaign: it is attempting to defend a totally wrong policy. How can I justify that? By looking at the most desirable target of terrorists: Israel. Consider this (more details can be found here): Israel hasn’t had a breach in airport security in eight years; there are six levels of security a passenger goes through, including some of the scanning we’ve become used to with the exception that shoes can be left on and liquids aren’t banned; there is no controversy over pat-downs because they aren’t needed. For this entire process, as multi-level and successful as it is, the passengers’ wait time between arrival at the parking lot and getting to their gate or airline lounge is less than a half hour.<br />What does it take to conclude that the Israeli system, which relies on security forces observing passengers’ faces and other similar observational approaches, is a better system than the one being used by the TSA, as measured by the two most critical standards: the nation’s level of security and the traveler’s quality of experience.<br />So, if the TSA wanted to wage a truly effective PR campaign, instead of trying to defend one component (the pat-downs) of a system that doesn’t work as well as another system, why not replace the entire system with the one that has been shown to work better?<br />To be fair, the TSA isn’t the only enterprise guilty of pumping resources to defend something that should be replaced. It also characterizes the businesses and other organizations that resist the risks and uncertainty of being innovative. But whether a business or a government agency, the enterprise that holds on to an outdated way of doing things for too long is going to face a disaster sooner or later – regardless of how good their PR might be.<br />

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