This semester, I am taking Freedom of Expression at Brockport. The class takes a look at the way that the Supreme Court of the United States has interpreted our rights throughout history. Needless to say, class-wide arguments and disagreements happen pretty often.
Last week, we debated a relatively recent case that most of us are probably familiar with. In Snyder v. Phelps et al., the Supreme Court deemed the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church acceptable. If you don’t recognize the name, this is the group that protests the funerals of fallen US soldiers with incredibly bold, at times unthinkable messages. Click this link if you would like to (most likely) be offended and learn more about Westboro Baptist Church.
Before I get too far into this, please understand that I do not agree with the messages that the Westboro Baptist Church proliferates, nor do I condone its actions. However, from a strictly PR perspective, these people are bordering not only on insanity, but also on genius.
During my class’ debate, one of my peers explained her view that the church should not be able to use the funeral of a victim in order to gain publicity. As a PR guy, though, I explained that I have a hard time finding fault with an organization that is really just doing a great job leveraging the media to its advantage.
Think about it. In any organization, we know that we have newsworthy things happening. We send press releases to media, pitch them specific angles and basically persuade them to cover us as much as possible. Although Westboro’s news may disgust and offend the average citizen, that doesn’t exactly make their opinions or tactics less valid.
“The process by which you inject your ideas or angles into breaking news, in real-time, in order to generate media coverage for yourself or your business.”
In other words, when people in PR see a current event that connects to something about their organization, they try to piggy-back on it, using that event to their advantage by pitching the angle to the media.
Isn’t Westboro newsjacking funerals?
I think these people have a very warped view of reality, personally. And I also think they’re possibly the most insensitive group of people ever assembled. But from a content-neutral perspective, these people are getting their views into the public’s eye.
And don’t all of us in PR have the same goal?