It was a dark and stormy night, and two young public relations people were working late on a difficult problem.
Their clients included a large New Zealand dairy corporation, an oil and gas exploration concern, a private prison conglomerate, a cigarette company and several political parties.
This was not the problem. This was wonderful, as it gave the PR company a tremendous amount of money. But it did result in a tremendous amount of work to turn, as they put it, lemons into lemonade.
"The problem," said Cassandra (communication management facilitator) "is that our clients keep doing bad things."
Her co-worker Eddie (communications co-ordination specialist) considered this.
"Yes," he said.
They observed the mighty stack of paperwork before them, warily.
In the first file, the large New Zealand dairy conglomerate had run into the seemingly insurmountable PR problem of dairy farming having turned New Zealand's rivers into slow-moving torrents of cow shit.
Governments and councils were now trying to do something about it through regulation.
Naturally, the large dairy conglomerate and farming industry organisations were resisting these efforts with all their might.
"It's hard to know how to reframe this action point, going forward," Eddie said.
"We should reprioritise the angular momentum, with a synergistic focus on public perception," said Cassandra. She wrote some notes, titling them: Words To Put In Some Farmer's Mouth.
"Water and its quality are vitally important.
"Like everyone else in the community, farmers want good water quality too.
"This is why farmers have invested millions of dollars and have positively changed how we farm over the past decade."
Cassandra and Eddie moved to the next file, which related to the National Government's decision to allow oil companies to drill exploratory deep ocean wells pretty much wherever they bloody well want.
It turned out that a bunch of commie pinko Greenies were opposed to the idea of multinational oil companies plundering natural resources for one of the lowest royalties in the world at an unacceptable risk to the New Zealand environment.
Eddie wrote some notes on the file, titling them Obfuscatory Flim-Flam For Some Oil Industry Pencil-Neck To Spout.
"While there is some residual risk to any drilling programme, it is very unlikely New Zealand would ever have any problems drilling around its coastlines," Eddie wrote.
He added a footnote. "When releasing this publicly, you should perhaps insinuate that there are already too many regulations to adhere to, and that any opposition to unsafe drilling is anti-economic." He also suggested that the notes be copied to Steven Joyce, Minister for Everything.
Next came the private prison file. Eddie and Cassandra had the job of fudging the private prison's figures so it looked like it was performing as well as or better than the government-run prisons. All that was required was some clever calculator work, shifting the axes on several graphs, and moving some inconvenient information on escapees to a section labelled "Appendix 342: Section A, page viii: Acceptable Losses (of prisoners)".
The cigarette company file was trickier.
They scribbled and synergised on it for quite a while, covering it with notes that read Agree/Disagree Campaign and Incomprehensible, Annoying Videos - Aim To Confuse.
They worked on it for quite some time before Cassandra abruptly threw the file across the room. "Do you ever think," said Cassandra, "of doing something more . . . rewarding?"
"This is rewarding," said Eddie.
"I bought an Audi yesterday."
"No," said Cassandra. "This job is just - well, it's difficult. I can't help thinking that there's an easier way."
"Robots?" suggested Eddie. "I hear HR are working on it as we speak."
"It should be easier," said Cassandra, a light blooming suddenly in her dull eyes.
"It would be easier if companies just . . . did the right thing to begin with."
Suddenly, she jumped up in the air.
She whooped. She turned a cartwheel.
She grabbed Eddie by the shoulders.
"Imagine!" she said. "Just think! If the dairy conglomerates really wanted environmentally-friendly farming, they'd withhold payments from polluting farmers! They could fix the problem virtually overnight!
"Oil companies could convert to products that produce less pollution and are more renewable!
"Private prisons could shape up, or ship off!
"And cigarette companies - why, they could make cigarettes that don't kill people!"
Eddie shook his head sadly.
"No," he said. "It would be wonderful but it can never be. Don't you see?
"If it happened, there would be nothing for us. No need for PR at all."
They came for Cassandra shortly afterwards, and one day Eddie became the chief executive, and bought himself another Audi, and a superyacht, too.
Joshua Drummond is a Hamilton freelance writer who aspires to work in PR one day.
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