Is PETA Winning the PR Battle?

peta_winning_1It's been said there's a sucker born every minute. If the annual revenue of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is any indication, there are a lot of suckers out there.

The anti-hunting group raked in nearly $29 million last year, much of it from gullible teenagers and twentysomethings captivated by a variety of ridiculous public relations campaigns. Urging Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream to switch from cow's milk to human breast milk? Gross. How about comparing meat to the Holocaust? Creepy. PETA even undertook a campaign to rename fish "sea kittens."

Despite the head-scratching stupidity of many of the group's publicity stunts, there's no question others are highly effective at promoting their message.

Who wouldn't prefer to see a model naked than wearing fur? PETA even tried to buy air time during the 2009 Super Bowl, but the overtly sexual commercial, which featured scantily clad models fondling vegetables and licking pumpkins, was deemed too offensive by NBC. It was still viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube and various other Internet sites.

It's no secret sex sells, but PETA masterfully enlists the help of an endless parade of A-list celebrities who willingly strip, peddle, and pander to get the group's message across.

The hunting community? Ted Nugent is our default spokesman, despite a number of less-controversial actors, athletes, and musicians who are known hunters. While PETA's campaigns are directed at everyone everywhere, pro-hunting groups pour their PR resources into various media outlets that reach'¦hunters. The hunting community is failing the public relations battle.

"We definitely have some catching up to do," admits United States Sportsmen's Alliance Vice President of Marketing Doug Jeanneret. "Most hunters understand that we pay for the vast majority of conservation efforts, but I don't think the general public does. We need to be more aggressive about getting our message out to mainstream America."

There's no better example of the hunting community's failure to win the PR battle than the recent "controversy" surrounding Melissa Bachman. The television host drew international scorn when she tweeted a photo of herself with a lion she killed in South Africa. Various news articles followed.

Some claimed lions are endangered and that regulated hunting is a threat to their population. Bachman was previously tossed from National Geographic TV's Ultimate Survival Alaska lineup after an on-line petition gathered thousands of signatures. The petition claimed she was a "heartless trophy hunter who has killed hundreds of animals without purpose."

The problem with countering the distortions and lies through a mainstream media campaign, says Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation President David Allen, is that those outlets are expensive. He agrees that hunters don't do a very good job of carrying our message to the general public, but he says hunters themselves are the best advocates for the sport.

"You're talking millions of dollars to run an ad campaign on any of the major media outlets," he says. "I don't think any of the hunting conservation groups have that kind of money, but individual hunters can help set the record straight by talking to friends, neighbors, and coworkers."

Allen did say he would be open to some sort of coalition that would pool money from different groups to mount a public relations campaign, but he's not sure if it's even possible. The RMEF, along with organizations like Delta Waterfowl, Pheasants Forever, and the National Wild Turkey Federation are too busy focusing on their missions with limited resources.

Anti-hunting groups, on the other hand, spend a large portion of their money on attracting and retaining members, even if it means distorting their mission. PETA received two stars overall from Charity Navigator, which rates charity and advocacy groups, and just one star for its financial dealings.

The RMEF earned four stars, the highest ranking possible. For groups like PETA, however, it's all about publicity, not reputation.

"All they have to do is pull some stupid stunt or come up with some highly offensive ad and the media is all over it," adds Jeanneret. "I suppose the hunting community could hire a bunch of models to stand in bikinis in downtown New York City with bows in their hands, but I don't think we should stoop to that level."

Maintaining a level of dignity still doesn't explain the void in positive messaging to mainstream America, though. A few celebrities do promote the conservation ethic, but when was the last time any of them defended their love of the outdoors and the value of hunting in a public forum beyond the hunting community?

That silence could be in part to the misguided yet vocal outrage from anti-hunters. One popular Facebook page titled "Name & Shame All The Pro Hunt/Cruel Celebrities" contains a lengthy list of stars who dare hunt, wear fur, or otherwise challenge the animal rights agenda.

Few celebrities are willing to risk public scorn over their hunting heritage. Nor are they willing to risk their careers. Liberalism runs deep in Hollywood, and liberals tend to chew up and spit out those who don't toe the party line.

The good news is that while PETA and other anti-hunting groups may be endearing impressionable college kids and lonely cat ladies, hunters are winning the long-term war. America supports hunting by an overwhelming majority. A recent survey conducted by natural resources research firm Responsive Management found that more than three-quarters of Americans supported hunting, with more than half strongly approving.

It was the highest level of support ever and a 4 percent increase over a 2011 survey. Even better, overall disapproval fell to its lowest level since Responsive Management started gauging public attitudes about hunting. Just 12 percent either moderately or strongly disapprove, down from 20 percent in 2011.

If that's not heartwarming enough, consider this: PETA's revenue has declined from $34 million in 2010 to less than $30 million last year. Hunter ranks have gone up, too. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Related Recreation, hunting participation increased 9 percent over the previous survey, conducted in 2006.

PETA may be winning the publicity battle, but hunters are clearly winning the war. We don't even have to take our clothes off.

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