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Public Relations Thought Leader

PR Practitioners’ Solutions: Wizard or Man Behind the Curtain?

Feeling jet-lagged after a mere one-hour flight from Memphis to Atlanta Sunday afternoon, I took to the couch in my apartment to relax and neglected my suitcase full of dirty laundry.

I turned on the TV and looked for a good Christmas movie. Nothing. But the next best thing was on – “The Wizard of Oz.”

Growing up, “The Wizard of Oz” was one of the staple VHS tapes in our home. My mom grew up loving the movie as one of the first broadcasts on color television so it was instilled in me to love it as well. We watched it every time it came on TV, I dressed up as Dorothy for multiple Halloweens, and “Wicked” was the first show I saw on Broadway. I stared at the laundry to be done and succumbed to nostalgia instead and watched the “Wizard of Oz” for what must have been the 100th time.

Now six months into my PR career, watching the decades-old movie had more meaning than ever before – and I don’t mean how incredibly un-scary the flying monkeys actually are. I noticed some stark parallels between the mysterious Wizard of Oz and the public relations practitioner.

Glinda (the good witch) sent the struggling foursome – Dorothy, The Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow – to Emerald City to see the mysterious Wizard of Oz, whom she was confident would solve their problems.

Our clients may not sing and skip down a yellow brick road to come see us, but in more cases than not, they are referred to come see us because they have some sort of a problem – whether it’s a “flying monkey” crisis in media relations, a need for better brand identity, or just a website that needs a facelift.

Regardless of how they come to us or why they come to us, they often come with an image of public relations much like the foursome’s image of the Wizard of Oz. They may not be exactly sure how they can be helped, but they trust in what will be offered.

When the foursome (and Toto) enter Emerald City and finally face the mysterious Wizard of Oz in his chambers, they aren’t greeted with quite the same repertoire and helpfulness that the lovely Glinda provided them. Instead, they stand in front of a large curtain with the imposed image of a floating head and an intimidating, booming voice echoing from every direction to speak to them.

They may have finally reached the Wizard, but their journey isn’t over yet. In order for the Wizard to grant their wishes, they are sent out on a treacherous task to capture the Wicked Witch of the West’s broomstick. To me, this sounded very similar to what some PR firms often require for their services – lengthy audits of an organization’s marketing and public relations strategies, surveys, and multiple interviews. Essentially, more hoops to jump through for a problem to be solved.

If you’ve seen the movie (or read the book), you know the plot climax follows (Spoiler alert!). In the Wicked Witch of the West’s chambers, Dorothy’s time nearly runs out in the sand timer until she splashes the Wicked Witch with water and the witch melts to her demise. The group grabs the broomstick and heads back to see the Wizard – maybe now he will solve their problems.

As they enter the Wizard’s chambers for the second time – ready for some results now that they have held up their part of the bargain – they are told to go away and come back tomorrow. Disappointed and disgruntled, the group begins to leave until Toto unveils what’s behind the curtain.

Amidst the smoke and curtain with a floating head projected onto it, the booming voice calls out, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

Behind the curtain sat a mere man – not mysterious or grandiose at all. While not what the group expected to find after all of the hype, the Wizard of Oz proves to be much more sympathetic and rational than they initially assumed. He speaks to them normally and is able to provide them with solutions. The problems are resolved as he and Dorothy fly away in the hot air balloon and the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man are left to run Emerald City.

In PR, there are a lot of “mysterious wizards” and there are also some “man behind the curtain” types. While the PR practitioner is certainly capable of conveying an extravagant image like the Wizard created to impress or intimidate his “clients,” I have seen that the most effective mechanism for communicating with clients is to be the simple person behind the curtain.

Working in a smaller size firm allows this to come more naturally, but it is something larger firms should seek as well. The intimidation factor should be targeted to clients’ competitors while the honest man behind the curtain should be the persona presented to a client. Being honest and providing targeted, simple solutions for clients solves problems more efficiently and realistically than a falsified image who makes clients jump through hoops.

Toto is still my favorite character after all of these years. Not only did he unveil the truth about the Wizard of Oz, saving the foursome from rejection, he also managed to find an escape from the crisis of those terrifying (at the time) flying monkeys.

– Bailee Bowman


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