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The PR Conundrum of Race

national park

A recent news items show via a PR lens why race is still a practical topic in America, as well as one that is increasingly becoming interesting to marketers. (And, no, we’re not talking about Mayor Bloomberg’s racially inflammatory comments about Bill de Blasio.)

If you had to think of the most racially neutral places in America, what would come to mind? For many people the answer to this question would be the great outdoors. America has made a point of maintaining a number of beautiful national parks, and has justifiably taken pride in preserving some beautiful natural experiences. These dedicated areas possess remarkably little branding, are easily accessible to whoever wishes to visit, and have an intrinsic apathy to any cultural bias. And yet the question of race is at the forefront of items which keep park managers up at night.

Why?

In a recent article, the NY Times reports that if one breaks down the numbers of park visitors by race, the figure comes out incredibly skewed. Only one out of every five visitors is not white. An even more striking factoid is that less than one out of ten is Hispanic. These numbers certainly don’t jive with the population figures at large, and especially so for those who want all Americans to enjoy the scenery. So what is a national park supposed to do about it? Follow the money, of course.

In a move that comes as little surprise to PR pros, the national parks are looking to private industry to do some promotional cross branding. What does industry get out of it? A hot and rapidly expanding market for hiking, camping, and other outdoor equipment. From an outsiders view it looks like a game of hot potato. The PR race burden seems to merely be shifting from the public sector to the private one. But seriously! Who are we kidding? Pandering to specific demographics, be it race or otherwise, is what private industry does best. Score one for the national parks.

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