One Plank For Good Public Relations
by Bill W
Copyright © The A.A.
Grapevine, Inc., August
its brief few years in the public eye, Alcoholics Anonymous has received
hundreds of thousands of words of newspaper and magazine publicity.
These channels have been augmented recently by radio commentators
and, here and there, A.A. sponsored radio broadcasts. Hardly a word
of criticism or ridicule has ever been uttered about us. While our
publicity has sometimes lacked a certain dignity we can scarcely complain
of that. After all, drinking is not such a dignified business!
surely have reason for great gratitude that multitudes of writers,
editors, clergymen, doctors - friends of every description - have
continued so sympathetically and so enthusiastically to urge our cause.
As a direct result of their efforts, thousands of alcoholics have
come to A.A. It is a good record. Providentially good, when one considers
how many mistakes we might have made; how deeply, had other policies
been followed, we might now be involved. In the "wet - dry"
controversy for example. Conceivably we might even have fallen out
with our good friends, religion and medicine. None of these things
have happened. We have been unbelievably fortunate, thank God.
by the Grace of God
While this makes fine success story reading, it is not, to our way
of thinking, any reason for self-congratulations. Older A.A.s who
know the record are unanimous in their feeling that an Intelligence
greater than ours has surely been at work, else we would never have
avoided so many pitfalls, could never have been so happily related
to our millions of friends in the outside world. Yet history records
the rise, and let us not forgets, the fall of any number of promising
and benign undertakings - political, religious and social. While some
did outlive their usefulness the greater part died prematurely. Something
wrong or unsound within them always became apparent without. Their
public relations suffered, they grew no more; they bogged down to
a dead level or fell apart.
glorification, overweening pride, consuming ambition, exhibitionism,
intolerant smugness, money or power madness, refusal to admit mistakes
and learn from them, self-satisfaction, lazy complacence - these and
many more are the garden varieties of ills which so often beset movements
as well as individuals.
we A.A.s, as individuals, have suffered much from such defects, and
must daily admit and deal with them in our personal lives if we are
to stay sober and useful, it is nevertheless true that such attitudes
have seldom crept into our public relations. But some day they might.
Let us never say, "It can't happen here."
Did Happen Then
Those who read the July Grapevine were startled, then sobered, by
the account which it carried of the Washingtonian movement. It was
hard for us to believe that 100 years ago the newspapers of this country
were carrying enthusiastic accounts about 100,000 alcoholics who were
helping each other stay sober; that today the influence of this good
work has so completely disappeared that few of us had ever heard of
cast our eyes over that Grapevine piece about the Washingtonians and
excerpt a few sentences: "Mass meeting in 1841, at City Hall
Park, New York City, attracted 4,000 listeners. Speakers stood on
upturned rum kegs." "Triumphal parades in Boston. Historic
Faneuil Hall jammed." (Overdone self-advertising - exhibitionism?
Anyhow, it sounds very alcoholic, doesn't it?) "Politicians looked
hungrily at the swelling membership ... helped wreck local groups
through their efforts to line up votes." (Looks like personal
ambition again; also unnecessary group participation in controversial
issues, the hot political issue was then abolition of slavery.) "The
Washingtonians were confident ... they scorned old methods."
(Too cock-sure, maybe. Couldn't learn from others and became competitive,
instead of cooperative, with other organizations in their field.)
A.A., the Washingtonians originally had but one object: "Was
concerned only with the reclamation of drunkards and held that it
was none of its affair if others used alcohol who seemed little harmed
by it." But later on came this development: "There was division
among the older local organizations - some wanted wines and beers
- some clamored for legislation to outlaw alcohol - in its zeal for
new members many intemperate drinkers, not necessarily alcoholic,
were pledged." (The original strong and simple group purpose
was thus dissipated in fruitless controversy and divergent aims.)
again, "Some of the Washingtonian local groups) dipped into their
treasuries to finance their own publications. Editors of local papers
got into squabbles with editors of temperance papers." (Apparently
the difficulty was not necessarily the fact they had local publications.
It was more due to the refusal of the Washingtonians to stick to their
original purpose and so retrain from fighting anybody, also to the
obvious fact that they had no national public relations policy or
tradition which all members were willing to follow.)
are sure that if the original Washingtonians could return to this
planet they would be glad to see us learning from their mistakes.
They would not regard our observations as aimless criticism. Had we
lived in their day we might have made the same errors. Perhaps we
are beginning to make some of them now.
we need to constantly scrutinize ourselves carefully, in order to
make everlastingly certain that we always shall be strong enough and
single purpose enough from within, to relate ourselves rightly to
the world without.
then, does A.A. have a public relations policy? Is it good enough?
Are its main principles clear? Can it meet changing conditions over
the years to come?
that we are growing so rapidly into public view, many A.A.s are becoming
acutely conscious of these questions. In the September Grapevine I'll
try to briefly outline what our present public relations practices
are, how they developed, and where, in the judgment of most older
A.A. members, they could perhaps be improved to better cope with our
new and more pressing problems.
we always be willing to learn from experience!