How “Black Lives Matter” Follows the Public Relations R.A.C.E. Model

Arguably one of the most hotly debated topics in 2015 has been the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement has lead millions around the nation and the world to gather in protest of racial injustice in the United States. However, a closer look at Black Lives Matter reveals that it’s not just an activist movement, but also has the characteristics of a public relations campaign. Specifically, when you compare its process to PR’s R.A.C.E. model of strategic communication, it’s easy to see why Black Lives Matter is more than just a demonstration in activism.

  • Research – Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement are constantly searching for stories of black Americans who’ve lost their lives at the hands of police.  Similar to the environmental scanning PR professionals must do in their daily work, Black Lives Matter activists search for every opportunity they can to continue their work.
  • Action – Once PR professionals have the information they need, they’re better educated to make decisions and create a plan for executing their strategy. Black Lives Matter did this by taking their action steps after former police officer Darren Wilson was acquitted in the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After the ruling, the movement began with protests around the globe, in one case closing down shopping malls in St. Louis the day after Thanksgiving.
  • Communication – While none of the founders of Black Lives Matter movement have backgrounds in social media, they each have prior history in community organizing. Using their relationship-building skills, similar to the ones PR professionals need, they’ve been able to communicate their strategies with activists and organizers around the world. Even when organizers aren’t protesting, the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter allows supporters and criticizers alike to join the conversations about equal justice.
  • Evaluation – Judging the success of Black Lives Matter is difficult without a set of predefined goals and metrics. For many PR campaigns, success is achieved if the strategy meets the organization’s financial bottom line. For others, success might be determined simply in the amount of awareness a campaign’s raised. Black Lives Matters seems to fit the latter as it hopes by raising awareness that it can influence change in the U.S. justice system.

It’s too soon to say whether Black Lives Matter will make the impact that it truly desires since it is a relatively new campaign. One can only hope that eventually its founders will come up with a true set of outcomes beyond simply raising awareness. As most PR professionals would agree, conversations are nice, but they mean little to nothing if they don’t lead to actions that deliver results.

PR Strategy: It’s Chess, Not Checkers

Last night’s class with professor Bill Jasso reminded me of one of my favorite Denzel Washington films, “Training Day.”  As we talked about the difference between tactics and strategies, I was reminded of one of the movie’s quotables, “…it’s chess, not checkers!”

When done correctly, PR isn’t a tactical race to capture all of your opponent’s pieces, similar to checkers.  It really is a strategic game of chess to capture the most important pieces – in this case, your publics’ attention – to communicate your message.

To carry out a strategy effectively, you need to follow the R.A.C.E. process:

  1. Research – The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one. When conducting research, we’re trying to define what it is that we want to accomplish by doing our homework on our clients’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as their external opportunities and threats.  While it’s not shown in the movie, Washington’s character, detective Alonzo Harris, already did his “homework” by the time he first appears in the movie.
  2. Action – Once you’ve gathered enough information about your objective, you now have to create a plan for how to reach it. The best plans are usually “smart” – or specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely – as it provides you with a way to stay focused on the task at hand. Harris created his plan with his recruit, Officer Jake Hoyt (played by Ethan Hawke), in mind based on the “homework” he did on a drug dealer whose house he had to raid for money.
  3. Communication – This is where tactics come into play in the overall strategy as communications tacticians make their living by carrying out the steps and procedures put in place. Through constant communication and reassurance, Harris is able to coax Hoyt into his plan to set him up as the trigger man for the drug dealer’s murder. Harris also safeguarded his strategy by convincing Hoyt to smoke marijuana before the shooting, just in case Hoyt decided to turn Harris in for his true intentions.
  4. Evaluation – The only way to know that you achieved what you set out to accomplish is to measure yourself against your objectives. That’s why evaluation is a crucial final step in the process as it determines how successful you really were. One could argue that Harris didn’t properly evaluate his strategy to pay off his debt to the Russians, which is why Hoyt ultimately came back to attack him and take the money Harris was going to use from the murdered drug dealer. Needless to say, Alonzo’s strategy failed as he was gunned down by the group of men he owed money to.

In public relations, effective strategies are needed to achieve a clients’ organizational objectives.  Executing this strategy involves the utilization of carefully planned tactics.  From this perspective, patience in developing strategies is the key to success in PR.  After all, “it’s chess, not checkers.”