Monday, October 24, 2011

Optical Delusions

"I'll take that, young
man. Rules are rules!"

Three recent patriotic PR challenges (two riveting fiascos, one decisive victory), teach us once again about the explosive power of optics--the way your issue is perceived by your audience. To paraphrase language guru Michael Maslansky, it's not what you say that matters, it's what they feel. The optics of every situation affect people's emotions.  
Casa in point: Management at Casa Monica, an upscale Marriott hotel in St. Augustine, FL, recently fired a front-desk supervisor for refusing to remove a small American flag pin that he'd worn on his uniform lapel for two years. National condemnation erupted right on schedule.
In turn, and also on cue, Casa Monica predictably blew off three of its own toes with an official "some-of-our-best-friends-are-patriots" response that ended with, "However, our employee handbook clearly states, 'No other buttons, badges, pins or insignias of any kind are permitted to be worn.'"

Many have argued that it is because we live in the Land of the Free that companies like Casa Monica are able to mandate dress codes. And they are absolutely right. But just like that guy in the full-body cast who was clearly in the crosswalk before that truck plowed over him, "right" is meaningless in matters of optics.

"No, Ms. Marti.
The pole is spotless
near as I can tell."

Darden Restaurant didn't fare much better when they attempted to manage the optics of their own flag-banning disaster last week. In this case, an 80-year-old retired librarian straight out of Central Casting tried to bring the American flag into her Oxford, Alabama Olive Garden for her Kiwanis Club banquet. But management refused saying they had a "no flags allowed" policy 
And that's when the fun began.
First, Darden Restaurants--Olive Garden's parent company--issued a statement saying they do not allow flags to "avoid disrupting the dining experience for all other guests."
Then Olive Garden's president, John Caron, countered on FaceBook that they have no flag policy, adding that "some members of our team were misinformed about company policy by our corporate office." Personal phone calls followed and apology-lunch dates were set.
In the latest installment, Olive Garden SVP Bill Holmes has promised to erect a flag pole outside the Oxford restaurant. Word is they will test the stability of the new pole by raising a very large white flag first. 

But it doesn't have to be that way. If Monica was too cold, and Olive was too hot, Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos got it just right.

About the time Bill Holmes was in Home Depot pricing flag poles, Marine Corps Times ran a cover story about growing discontent among Marines over increasing enforcement of the ban on Killed in Action bracelets. Under the Corps' uniform regulation, Marines were not allowed to wear the metal or rubber KIA bracelets etched with the name of their fallen comrade. Here is the headline and post date:

Marines frustrated by ban on KIA bracelets
Posted Monday October 17, 2011 7:23:28 EDT

Here is the headline of the cover story that ran after Gen. Amos took command of the situation:

Amos ends ban on KIA bracelets
Posted Tuesday October 18, 2011 12:44:53 EDT

The lesson: When your PR crisis absolutely, positively has to be destroyed overnight, think and act like a Marine.

1 comment:

  1. "Word is they will test the stability of the new pole by raising a very large white flag first."