Friday, September 01, 2006

The Strategy of Spin

One of my ongoing commitments is working as a marketing consultant for a small publisher. I come up with ways for them to get their name well known within their target audience, and also suggest marketing ideas for specific titles.

I love this kind of work, and like to think that I'm pretty good at it. Still, when I read in the Washington Post yesterday about a
$20 million PR contract from the U.S. military for more positive coverage of news in Iraq
, I wasn't tempted to submit a bid for the job.

The $20 million would be spread out over two years. According to the proposal, a team of 12 to 18 people would be involved in proposing several public relations events per month, such as speeches or news conferences, including "preparation of likely questions and suggested answers, themes and messages as well as background, talking points."

Any way you slice it, that's over half a million a year per spin doctor. (If you're interested, bids are due Sept. 6, and the 24-month contract is scheduled to begin on Oct. 28.) It's a possibly promising position, until you realize that then you'd be expected to put a positive spin on reports like the one in yesterday's Boston Globe which included these factual gems:

[T]he pay gap between soldiers and defense CEOs has exploded. Before 9/11, the gap between CEOs of publicly traded companies and army privates was already a galling 190 to 1. Today, it is 308 to 1. The average army private makes $25,000 a year. The average defense CEO makes $7.7 million.

The top profiteers after 9/11 were the CEOs of United Technologies ($200 million), General Dynamics ($65 million), Lockheed Martin ($50 million), and Halliburton ($49 million). Other firms where CEO pay the last four years added up to $25 million to $45 million were Textron, Engineered Support Systems, Computer Sciences, Alliant Techsystems, Armor Holding, Boeing, Health Net, ITT Industries, Northrop Grumman, Oshkosh Truck, URS, and Raytheon.

While Army privates died overseas earning $25,000 a year, David Brooks, the disgraced former CEO of body-armor maker DHB, made $192 million in stock sales in 2004. He staged a reported $10 million bat mitzvah for his daughter. The 2005 pay package for Halliburton CEO David Lesar, head of the firm that most symbolizes the occupation's waste, overcharges, and ghost charges on no-bid contracts, was $26 million, according to the report's analysis of federal Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

It will take a special sort of spin talent to make such things appear with a positive slant. But Spin Doctors can work with anything. They can make cigarette smokers seem cool and alcoholics sexy. They can make otherwise sane people think that a little pill of a certain color will enable them to eat anything they want or become a geriatric Lothario. No doubt, there are those who are drooling to jump at the chance to spread their creative wings on this assignment...