Love them or hate them, whether you are for gun control or can’t stomach the idea, none of that matters when looking at the success of the NRA’s PR campaign. In fact, it is a great case history worth studying by anyone who wants to create and promote their message. Want proof? Look back at all the murders by guns we’ve come to accept as virtually commonplace in the U.S. without any action to change our gun control laws. No further proof is necessary.
Why? Here are some lessons:
THEY ALWAYS STAY ON POINT. There is no confusion about the NRA message. Gun control is an absolute no-no. The second amendment (as interpreted by the NRA) is sacrosanct. Period. No confusion. Consistent. Simple and intuitive to understand.
THEY RE-FRAME THE ISSUE AWAY FROM THEIR PHILOSOPHY. Want to talk about gun control? No. That’s not the issue. Mental illness is the issue. Let’s talk about that. Divert the discussion away from gun control.
THE ANTI-GUN CONTROL CAMPAIGN IS TOTALLY INTEGRATED. The NRA doesn’t rely on just their publicity efforts, or their advertising, or their events, etc. etc. It is an integrated campaign that includes social media and public affairs/lobbying – every distribution channel. To say nothing about political action committees and political fundraising to support the candidates they favor. But whatever the audience or the vehicle used to get the message to their audience, the NRA never changes their message. Integrated, simple and always on point. That’s a powerful strategy.
THEY REPEATEDLY USE MEMORABLE AND CLEVER PHRASES. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.” Come on! Not only is that a concept their supporters can rally around, and repeat, but the NRA has been using it for at least three years.
THEY IMBUE THEIR OPPONENTS WITH EVIL ATTRIBUTES. You hear it every time guns are used for a mass shooting. Those who attack the NRA are alleged to have problems. For example, the news media plays gun-shooting stories incorrectly in order to sell papers or build TV ratings. People promoting gun control are said to be trying to politicize the issue, shamelessly using the victims of gun violence to promote their cause. And those who want gun control will make our nation vulnerable to another 9/11. The NRA opponents are never give any ounce of credit for doing anything good. Have you ever heard an advocate for the NRA utter the words to gun-control supporters “Well, you may have a point there”? The NRA keeps it simple: if you are for us, you’re a loyal American; if you are against us, you’re naïve, unpatriotic, in favor of coddling criminals, etc.
THEY ELEVATE THEIR OWN LEADERS TO HERO STATUS. Charlton Heston. The NRA has made him immortal and in his immortality he stands for everything good and he explains it in simple and admirable terms. Gun-owners are the real patriots. Compromise on unfettered access to guns is intolerable. And if you don’t like the way Charlton Heston articulated it, you can follow the advice of Sarah Palin, another easy-to-understand and support icon. Or Wayne LaPierre. You have a choice of heroes manufactured by the NRA.
IN SHORT: If you ever see the NRA changing its message, then you’ll know that they think the tide is turning against them. But we’ve seen no change in their message even as gun deaths and mass shootings escalate beyond belief, putting the U.S. in a class by itself globally for gun violence. And we’re not likely to see any change for one simple reason: they run a great PR campaign that works. The only way to combat it is to run a better campaign, but that’s not likely to happen for at least two reasons: 1) there is a naïve belief that political action can be achieved as the result of a strong speech by the President (even when he shows he’s “really mad”) – give me a break; and 2) there are too many gun-control organizations that, combined, violate all the reasons cited above for why the NRA campaign works: mixed messages (and therefore no ability to stay on point – there is no point), no real heroes, no memorable and repeatable messages, and major dilution of funds and other resources, etc. etc.
So … whether you love them or hate them and the policies they support, if you want to create and execute a great PR campaign, it is worth your time to study the NRA’s communications efforts.