Before any Elvis fans deluge me with emails expressing outrage, I will admit that Elvis had nothing directly to do with the crisis.
But Elvis had a manager by the name of Colonel Tom Parker and that is where the connection between Elvis and our economic crisis begin.
Colonel Parker began his 'promotion' career as a carnival barker back in the 1930's. The master of public relations was fond of telling his workers how he used to get crowds to come see his old, toothless lion by putting the beast at the back of room, having a record composed of lion growls playing and encouraging the crowd to witness 'a man-eating ferocious beast.'
That is where Colonel Parker learned the art of 'Snowing.' Snowing, as the self styled Colonel would explain, could be defined as the ability to sell a person the shirt off his back. To Colonel Parker, snowing was at the heart of the entertainment world and in Elvis, Colonel Parker found his perfect vehicle to snow not only Hollywood, but also the entire world.
I personally got to know the Colonel beginning in late 1956 when my mom 'snowed' her way into working for Elvis and Colonel as their private secretary (she was a natural snower herself, a talent the Colonel saw right away). The early Presley office referred to themselves as 'snowers' and looked at all their activities as 'snow jobs.' If Colonel was impressed with his staff's snowing abilities, he would induct them into the 'Snowman's League of America.'
America had never experienced anything like Colonel Parker. The Public Relations industry had (and has) a long established code of ethics that practitioner like Edward L. Bernays had perfected, and that most PR experts have tried to adhere to. Colonel Parker however did not come from the conventional world of PR and could not be bothered by anyone's codes. In a true Machiavellian manner, the Colonel decided to see what he could achieve, using the true talents of his sole client, Elvis Presley as his bait. In his quest to out snow anyone in Hollywood, he left a deep imprint in the contemporary public relations business.
One tactic was his ability to fluster. The goal was to take the power away from the opponent in any negotiation. During the making of Love Me Tender, a group of RCA recording executives came to see the Colonel at his office at 20th Century Fox. Colonel had his assistant Byron put the Presley dressing room plaque in front of the men's bathroom, and Byron escorted the gentlemen to the 'office.' Colonel sat on the John, reading the paper, looked up at the shocked group and immediately went into their business discussion.
To Colonel Parker, snowing was more than a means to an end. It was a way to move forward – to build upon past successful snow-jobs. Soon after his encounter with the executives in the men's room, Colonel decided that having an office at Fox Studios was not enough; he wanted an office at his agent's office too. Colonel had a conversation with Abe Lastfogel, president of the William Morris Agency, the largest talent organization in the world. At the end of the conversation, Colonel had snowed Mr. Lastfogel, arguably one of Hollywood's most powerful men, into giving him and Elvis their own office within the Presidents office. From that day forward, when you entered the Morris Office, at the top of the directory, under the Lastfogel's name, was Colonel Parker.
And what does the snow job have to do with our current financial crisis? Unfortunately, everything. The public relations industry noticed the power of Colonel's techniques. Over the next decade, the snow job became –for many -an acceptable approach to all public relations efforts. Truth was often put on the sidelines, as the campaign's outcome became the focus.
And that leads us to today's mess. We, as a society, have been snowed. It didn't start last week, or last month. It didn't start last year. The snow job started years back with political campaigns that said we could cut taxes to and run a balanced budget. Then we were snowed again about a war that ended up not having any truth behind the snow job.
Banks decided to snow us into believing that anyone could buy a half-million dollar house. Brokers snowed worried buyers that all was well, since houses kept going up in price, and you could always sell it for more. Buyers snowed themselves that 0% loans would last forever and their house would continue to skyrocket in value. Colonel Parker would have been proud.
The banks then began snowing each other. They took thousands of these questionable loans, packaged them into mortgage-backed securities and sold them off (aka 'snowed them off) to other banks. Other snowers came up with an additional snow job called a 'credit derivatives' in which institutions would make money guaranteeing the problematic loan packages - aka snow jobs.
Today, the snowing goes on. Large companies are trying to snow us into getting taxpayer money, saying they are too large to fail. The democrats are snowing us into believing that spending trillions of dollars is the only way to get us out of the previous snow-job mess. Republicans are trying to snow us into believing that free enterprise solutions are the only way out of the mess.
So, 50 years after Colonel Parker snowed his way into Hollywood, we all have joined the Snowman's League. The entire country, from someone receiving their first credit card to AIG and Citicorp have been buried under so much snow, we have all lost site of common sense decision-making.
I grew up hearing on a daily basis about the snow jobs that Colonel and the others in the office succeeded in accomplishing. I also knew, as a kid, that it was a game to them and the outcomes were not as important as just winning. This was not lost on me when Elvis died. Colonel always treated Presley in a purely professional manner but was careful not to try to help Elvis on a personal basis. It was all about the opportunities Elvis gave him as his manager. In hindsight, a little more compassion to Elvis's needs and Colonel may have helped his client survive.
That same understanding can be applied to our society today. If all the companies would stop snowing, we may be able to see what the real conditions we are facing are and make decisions out of facts and not bad public relations campaigns. Growing up as a child of snowers, I could smell a snow job a mile away. Over the past few years, I can only describe the situation as one huge snowstorm.
Colonel may have been the scary cousin to the PR industry they were impressed with his results but would never outwardly embrace them.
Even if the ethical practitioners within the PR industry would distance themselves from snowing. It is safe to say that the snow job became perfectly acceptable for many of their clients. Snowing isn't just a story about Colonel Parker, it is about using ruthless tactics to convince people that bad information is actually good for them.