In addition to recommending a professional PR campaign to try and coax tourists back to Arizona in the wake of the state's tough new immigration law, the task force appointed by Governor Jan Brewer suggested that Arizona try to "change the tone of the dialogue" by talking about the effects that tourism boycotts have on vulnerable employees within the state.
Switching the focus of a debate to a more winnable subject, in this case downtrodden workers, is a timeworn PR technique. The tobacco industry deployed it at every turn to avoid talking about health. It is one of the many PR techniques perfected by Big Tobacco that are now in almost constant use by embattled corporations everywhere. Now Arizona announced it intends to use it as well.
The "Shift-the-Debate Technique"
A 1993 Philip Morris (PM) internal presentation called Grasstops Government Relations explains how PM, which frequently found itself on the wrong side of public opinion, applied the switch-the-debate technique to gain PR ground. PM's Vice President of State Government Affairs, Tina A. Walls, explains how PM avoided discussion of health and safety issues around tobacco by simply switching to another subject. Walls explains:
...Finally, we try to change the focus on the issues. Cigarette tax become[s] an issue of fairness and effective tax policy. Cigarette marketing is an issue of freedom of commercial speech. Environmental tobacco smoke becomes an issue of accommodation. Cigarette-related fires become an issue of prudent fire safety programs. And so on.
The substitute arguments Walls cited distracted people from focusing on an important fact that could generate outrage and backlash: that cigarettes kill people who use them as intended.
[Note: For more information on corporate PR techniques for distracting the public's attention, visit SourceWatch's article on Tobacco industry public relations strategies. Once you learn these techniques, your life will probably never be the same.]
Now Arizona Shifts the Debate
Like Philip Morris, Arizona wants to take the public's attention off he real subject -- their new law that is probably unconstitutional and infringes on freedom -- and steer the conversation toward a topic that generates more sympathy and avoids blame. The focus on downtrodden-employees is perfect for this. Expect upcoming Arizona ads that talk about the suffering brought upon the states' poor, vulnerable workers, not because the state passed an onerous law, but because of the cruel way people around the U.S. are reacting to it. After all, it isn't Arizona's fault, it's everyone else's.
If Arizona's lawmakers really cared about the plight of vulnerable people, they might have thought a little more carefully before they passed their new law. After all, so much has now gone wrong in Arizona that it simply cannot be fixed with a $280,000 PR campaign.