From The Archives – The A.P. P.R. Firm – A 10 Minute Play

(I first wrote this play seven years ago and presented it at a Santa Cruz Actors’ Theatre workshop on July 21, 2009. The events and topical references are from that time and may appear dated, but the underlying theme of disinformation from high places is still relevant.)

CAST OF CHARACTERS

CHAIRMAN

MR. CARNEY

MR. GRAMM

MS. HURTZ

MR. PHELPS

NEIL HOLTON

LEONARD (OR LEONA)

OTHER BOARD MEMBERS (OPTIONAL)

Scene: A corporate boardroom

Time: Beginning of workday

(A board of directors are sitting around the table and appear agitated. The chairman is standing at the middle of the table.)

CHAIRMAN

Now I don’t think I have to tell you that the situation is dire. Our public image has taken a severe beating since the toxic toy crisis, and because of that debacle the parents will inevitably sue us for damages, hospital bills and skin graft surgeries. Other customer complaints have piled up to the point that we had to hire more than the usual amount of temps to wade through them all. Sales are wavering to the point that the upcoming layoffs will claim people higher up than the usual drones. The masses are so up in arms over the Gulf oil spill that it could lead to the worst catastrophe possible, government regulation of corporations.

(Everyone gasps)

CHAIRMAN

Yes, I was just as shocked when I found out. And now my sources tell me that 60 Minutes wants to do an expose about us. So as you can all see, and we have to act fast or we’ll hit rock bottom.

MR. PHELPS

(Stands up)

I know! We can improve productivity, take deferred payments to allow for recovery, and tighten our belts for the good of the company.

(Everyone laughs.)

CHAIRMAN

(Chuckling at Phelps as he makes him sit back down)

My, your are precious.

(To rest of board)

What we’re going to do is hire the best public relations firm in the country to improve our image and reshape the way the public thinks of us.

MR. GRAMM

Genius!

MS. HURTZ

Anything to pacify the rabble.

CHAIRMAN

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Neil Holton of the A.P. P.R. Firm.

(Neil Holton enters and is followed by his assistant Leonard.)

NEIL

Thank you, chairman, thank you everybody. Now let’s get down to business. Your chairman tells me that you have the kind of problem that only the likes of our firm can remedy.

MS. HURTZ

Yes, we’ve heard of you, but what are your credentials?

NEIL

Credentials?

(Leonard laughs out loud.)

NEIL

Who do you think put off enormous liability costs for tobacco companies for decades with a carefully orchestrated campaign of denial and misinformation, which we’d still be continuing if it weren’t for all those weaklings dying of heart disease and lung cancer?

MS. HURTZ

So you’re no longer working for big T?

LEONARD

Au contraire.

NEIL

We rose to the challenge by engineering the new program of false piety and some very strategic T.V. name placement.

MR. GRAMM

Clever way to get around the law.

CHAIRMAN

Did I tell you these guys are good?

MR. PHELPS

(Naively)

Well their new anti-smoking campaign sure has me hooked. Who knew that the tobacco industry really is concerned about people’s health.

MR. CARNEY

That’s why they got into the food business.

NEIL

And when Shady Energy ran into interference after their privatization plan of the western power grid pissed off a few hand wringers, who saw to it that the good people of S.E. got their side of the story into the public and on every major and minor television network? And nobody went to prison.

LEONARD

And nobody important lost their fortune.

MR. GRAMM

Yes, the trickle up theory.

CHAIRMAN

And with the collapse of Building 7 and all the records contained therein, the paper trail has disappeared.

MR. PHELPS

Yeah, that sure was a stroke of luck.

NEIL

And when it came time to once again marshal America back into military warfare, who concocted the perfect story to convince the majority of Americans that it was the right thing to do?

LEONARD

And believe you me, convincing the public that a dictator we supported for years had suddenly become the enemy was no easy task.

NEIL

But we pulled it off.

LEONARD

With our most audacious campaign up to that point.

CHAIRMAN

Yes, the part about enemy soldiers setting fire to a hospital maternity ward was a nice touch.

NEIL

And now I’ve been told that you have a problem which requires the expertise of someone such as myself and my firm.

MR. CARNEY

This is where things stand. For years we were able to keep a lid on some of our more creative business practices, but now some nosy, ambulance chasing prick is making a documentary about us.

MS. HURTZ

He’s talking to a lot of our former disgruntled employees, and you know once they tell their teary eyed hard luck story that’s going to tug on some heart strings.

NEIL

Now, unlike most media, we don’t have control over what shows inside of a movie house, but we have a way to counter act that, with our “special” news releases.

LEONARD

Interviews of select members of your organization will be sent to T.V. stations all over the country and will also be broadcast internationally.

MR. CARNEY

But what’s going to happen if the reporters ask some probing questions?

NEIL

Who said anything about reporters?

(The board of directors all look around to each other quizically.)

NEIL

The interviews will be conducted by our own staff. They will look like real reporters, talk like real reporters, and ask questions like real reporters.

LEONARD

And as long it’s made to look like a real news report, that’ll be enough to fool most anybody.

MR. GRAMM

My god, that’s brilliant!

MR. CARNEY

I don’t know, sounds like a pretty bold scheme. Isn’t anybody on to it?

NEIL

Nobody who can cause us damage.

MS. HURTZ

Just the late night television clowns.

MR. GRAMM

I’d love to see all those jabbering fools in a gulag.

MR. PHELPS

Or a prison.

(Everyone stares at Phelps for a moment.)

CHAIRMAN

All things in good time, but first we must deal with the problem at hand.

MR. CARNEY

What we need are more tactics. I was thinking of an infomercial, or maybe QVC. It’s longer than a regular commercial so you can really get the word out.

MS. HURTZ

But the only people who watch that stuff are shut-ins and oddballs.

MR. PHELPS

I love those infomercials! I’m only six pieces away from a complete War of 1812 chess set.

(Awkward silence.)

CHAIRMAN

(Quietly to Neil)

Legacy.

NEIL

Infomercials and the like are not a bad idea, but not everybody believes what they see on television.

MR. GRAMM

That’s a minority.

NEIL

Perhaps, but something that is more official looking will be more convincing.

LEONARD

We can get a congressional subcommittee hearing with press coverage, send in some well rehearsed people, and use it as a vehicle to get your side of the story out.

MS. HURTZ

(Alarmed)

Washington? That’s the lion’s den!

NEIL

Never fear. The key is that our people do not testify under oath, that way nothing that is said can come back and bite you. And it’s free, official looking publicity.

MR. GRAMM

I like it.

CHAIRMAN

That all sounds very promising, Neil, but before we get to that crisis point, we were thinking about concentrating on mass advertising and some strategically placed press releases.

NEIL

Ah yes, plan A. We can plaster your logo on billboards, buses, and every public space where we’re allowed to advertise, basic but effective.

LEONARD

The public will be inundated and have no choice but to be held captive to your relentless efforts to woo them over.

MR. PHELPS

(Wistfully)

We can really be a part of people’s lives.

LEONARD

And don’t forget about the well placed campaign contributions.

MR. GRAMM

Hey, what do you think we are, amateurs?

MS. HURTZ

Despite everything we still have our fair share of paid servants who are quite reliant on us.

LEONARD

Of course you do, but we had something else in mind.

NEIL

Now, who needs money more than our schools and children?

MR. CARNEY

I don’t think I like where this is heading.

NEIL

Just bear with me. As we all know, and as we’re constantly being reminded by all the bleeding hearts, most of our public institutions are quite underfunded, and nothing makes a business look better than making a highly visible contribution to such an institution. And who needs it more than schools and children?

MR. CARNEY

(Looking around the room)

I think I know some people.

NEIL

Yes, of course, but what we had in mind is a donation program to public schools that not only looks good in the media, but it indoctrinates the youth to your brand name.

MS. HURTZ

Of course, during the crucial formative years.

LEONARD

You can become their world.

MR. PHELPS

Wow!

MR. GRAMM

They can carry around their books in our backpacks, wearing clothes their parents bought from us. You can’t beat that kind of marketing.

MR. CARNEY

We could get control of the cafeterias and our food division can feed them.

MS. HURTZ

We can give them teaching supplies with our logos. Our brand name will be everywhere.

CHAIRMAN

Glee clubs all across the nation will be singing our jingles.

MR. PHELPS

Yes!

NEIL

So as you can see, an all encompassing campaign can be quite effective.

MR. CARNEY

But what do we say to the inevitable critics? What’s our defense?

NEIL

Two words.

LEONARD

Blame game.

NEIL

Accuse your accusers, put the light back on them, and never stop. That will win you a certain amount of sympathy, and you’ll need all you can get.

MS. HURTZ

But what about 60 Minutes?

NEIL

Dan Rather tried to expose the lack a military record for our president, and now he’s finished. Nuff said.

MR. GRAMM

True, but there are other media sources.

NEIL

So what if some fringe muckraker does a story on you? Only commies and people who live in trees follows that stuff, and they have a very limited audience.

MR. CARNEY

But enough to be bothersome.

NEIL

Look, we may not be able to pull all the strings, but we still have control over the important strings, and that’s what’s important in this battle. And make no mistake, this is a battle. We at the Amalgamated Propagandists Public Relations Firm have a sacred responsibility to make sure that those in power stay in power.

LEONARD

And at a comparatively reasonable price.

CHAIRMAN

Excellent presentation, gentleman.

(To baoard)

So are we all in agreement?

MR. GRAMM

Before I say yes, I need to have some more assurances that this will work. We don’t need another fiasco like the old Howard Cosell Signature Brand Hairpiece sweatshop scandal.

LEONARD

Never fear, we do our operations in U.S. protectorates that have the best of both worlds.

NEIL

U.S. protection without U.S. standards.

MR. GRAMM

Well they’re not exactly high these days either, but I think it’s worth a chance. Count me in.

NEIL

That’s one. Who else is on board?

MS. HURTZ

Drastic times call for drastic measures. We can not fall behind in the battle for hearts and minds, and we can not be afraid to say the things that need to be said. We must now pull out all the stops because our very survival is at stake.

CHAIRMAN

Well said, Ms. Hurtz.

(To Neil)

I think you’ll find all of us here “get it” and that it won’t take much convincing to get us to do what is necessary.

MR. CARNEY

Now, before I can come on board, I have a few concerns. Let me just say that there isn’t a doubt in my mind we can pull this caper off, but there are still a couple of loose ends that need to be tied. I agree with everyone’s concerns, but with all due respect, if we put A.P. P.R. in charge of our public face, I get the uneasy feeling that we’re giving away a little too much of our power. I know we need your help and we’re all appreciative, but I do not want to give up our position on the inside track. What assurances do we have that we will not be relegated to second class status?

NEIL

Ladies and gentleman, this is the best part. As your chairman knows we have connections, very important connections, and certain people in high places want to bring certain corporate high rollers into the executive fold. Open up the case, Leonard.

(Leonard holds case in one hand and opens it with the other revealing a series of badges.)

NEIL

On behalf of the United States government as an officer of the organization Intergard I hear by deputize all of of you junior members of Intergard.

(He hands out badges to everyone.)

NEIL

As officers of Intergard you will receive advance notices of classified intelligence reports, be consulted about major policy decisions that directly affect you, and in the event of any unforeseen catastrophes that require the administration of martial law, membership entitles you to exercise the power of policing.

MR. CARNEY

You mean like law enforcement?

LEONARD

Armed and dangerous.

MR. CARNEY

Well count me in!

CHAIRMAN

Excellent.

(Looks toward Phelps)

But I’m still not sure if we all agree with your proposition.

MR. PHELPS

A cop! At last, Simon Phelps will get the respect that he deserves!

CHAIRMAN

Sounds like we’re all on board.

MS. HURTZ

(Raises glass)

A toast to Mr. Holton and his lackey! The saviors of our people!

EVERYONE

(Raising glasses)

Hooray!

NEIL

(Smiles sentimentally and graciously)

I love this job.

©2009, 2016 Robert Kirkendall

Subsequently published in The Wagon Magazine, Volume 1 – Issue 2, May 2016

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