Happy Groundhog Day, WUL readers!
If you are anything like me, you’re a big fan of the once famous Bill Murray movie surrounding one of the littlest celebrated holidays in American culture.
It’s a day when a small number of people in Pennsylvania wait to see whether or not a rodent of the family Sciuriade “thinks”certain meteorological conditions will persist for six weeks or if inhabitants of the northeast US will be able to break out their flip flops a little early.
This annual ritual, if taken seriously, leaves a slew of questions for any hard-nosed reporter who can’t take a joke:
- For starters, how do we know if Punxsutawney Phil is afraid of his shadow or something else?
- Have scientists developed some unusual way of communicating with groundhogs or translating their grunts or gibbering into language as we know it today?
- And who exactly are the top hat-donning handlers, known as the Inner Circle, who take care of Phil?
And why do we listen to a groundhog when it comes to weather conditions?
Wouldn’t a bird, a creature who spends everyday in the higher portions of the atmosphere, or a fish, who might have a chance at reading ocean currents, be a better representative when it comes to animals predicting temperature in the near future?
To be clear, I’m not taking a cheap shot here. Phil’s got a 39% batting average, which would make him the best hitter in baseball history, but a piss-poor weatherman. He’s also a pessimist and a coward, having seen his shadow 99 out of 115 times.
To be fair, he is a cute little bugger. Furthermore, I’m not sure humans are all that much better when it comes to prediction. Oh sure, we may be a bit better when it comes to long-term weather forecasts, but a groundhog doesn’t raise crops. Human beings have been waiting for flying cars and moon colonization for years, all to no avail.
In fact, prediction itself has come under plenty of criticism in recent years.
Famous author and former finance trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb has most famously shellacked Wall Street thinkers and modern economists for models that supposedly represent reality. Taleb sold plenty of books, as professionals have come to realize that guessing the performance of the 2012 orange crop in Florida isn’t exactly sound grounds for a bet on which the retirement savings of thousands of Americans may rely.
So what does that have to do with PR?
Essentially, our industry is in the best position to take an agnostic approach to uncertainty. Communication is more about mastery than it is about projection.
While the executives we represent are saddled with the perhaps impossible task of charting organizational futures, we take charge of charting organizational message.
Does that take some degree of foresight and an attempt to guess where public dialogue is headed? Certainly. Presenting a message that goes stale is never good for anyone.
But if we are good at our jobs and see communication as a skill set (and I’m guessing most of us do), then we ought to be able to make messages interesting, adding inherent value to the approach of our clients in ways that require little to no fortune telling.
This is great news. I sympathize with the sleepless PR agent who has to explain the rather pathetic misdeeds of organizational mismanagement or ethical lapses, just as I sympathize with those the organization has wronged…
… but at least I know I have better sense than to attempt clairvoyance, trust a shadowy cast of characters in top hats or run away from my own shadow.
In other words, at least we’re not Phil.
Image: faz the persian via Flickr, CC 2.0