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The world’s worst press release and the disgrace of the fear industry

By on Jul 14, 2017 in Press Release | 0 comments

The world’s worst press release landed in my inbox the other day.

Competition is stiff for that title but this release, which came with the subject line, “Lifesaving information for Chicago citizens,” ran away with the crown.

After a cheery, “Hi Mary,” it began:

“We are only a little over a halfway through with 2017 and Chicago’s violence shows no signs of stopping.”

Halfway through 2017, violence remains stubbornly high in Chicago

While a new police initiative in Chicago’s two historically most crime-plagued districts shows early promise, violence remains stubbornly high as the city marks the often turbulent July Fourth weekend.

At the year’s midpoint, 323 people have died in Chicago violence — one more homicide than a year…

While a new police initiative in Chicago’s two historically most crime-plagued districts shows early promise, violence remains stubbornly high as the city marks the often turbulent July Fourth weekend.

At the year’s midpoint, 323 people have died in Chicago violence — one more homicide than a year…

(Jeremy Gorner)

As I read, I could hear the sirens, bombs and helicopters of her imaginary dystopian Chicago — the PR agency is in Arizona — and wondered if she’d graduated from the Donald Trump School of Public Relations.

Chicago violence: Why the dramatic increases in shootings, homicides?

A look at factors driving Chicago violence as the city sees dramatic increases in shooting victims and homicides. (Jemal R. Brinson / Chicago Tribune)

A look at factors driving Chicago violence as the city sees dramatic increases in shooting victims and homicides. (Jemal R. Brinson / Chicago Tribune)

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I’m not going to name the self-defense company she was promoting. If I did, the world’s worst press release would have succeeded in getting publicity for its product. Suffice it to say that the company is headquartered in L.A. Its website describes it as the “industry leader in reality based self-defense, fitness, and fighting.”

There’s an industry involved, that’s for sure, but it’s not just the self-defense industry. It’s the fear industry.

Fear is a hot commodity.

Ask Donald Trump. He sold it to the American voters. He’s a titan of the industry, and fearmongering about Chicago is one of his specialties.

The fear industry exists to make us vote a certain way, click on certain stories, buy stuff. In the name of protection, it stokes our fears beyond reason.

A colleague with a teenage daughter recently received a press release that’s a strong runner-up for the title “world’s worst.”

It came with the subject line “This May be The Most Important Thing You Buy for Your College-Bound Daughter,” and warned “With the continual rise of date-rape drugs, empower your daughters with this simple product for her peace of mind (and yours)!”

The product was a “drink system” — the fancy term for container — that lets a young woman take her own drink to the party or bar, thereby thwarting the scoundrel who’d like to slip her a date-rape drug.

In a jaunty tone hardly fitting for the subject of rape — most press releases are jaunty, regardless of topic — it promised that the drink system’s “strong seal prevents spilling, leaking and squirting while the straw helps keep teeth clean and lipstick in place.”

My colleague, who worries about her daughter in the ways any mother would, was appalled that the company was trying to capitalize on her fears for her daughter’s safety “to get me to buy a product that I really don’t want or need.”

The world is full of danger, more for some people than others, but for most people in most realms it’s safer than it used to be.

The titans of the fear industry and their PR agents don’t want us to think that way. They’ve got products to sell, and they’re happy to use real problems to sell fake solutions.

I dream of the day that I get an email with the subject line “Lifesaving information for Chicago citizens” and it’s for a real solution to Chicago’s troubles. It will be the world’s best press release.

mschmich@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MarySchmich

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