For the past few weeks, much of the news has been focused on the fiscal cliff. As we inched closer to the pending financial doomsday and waited while politicians worked more on their sound bites than a compromise, the news media tried to explain what life at the bottom would look like for the ubiquitous middle American.
While many reporters focused on the tax ramifications, the story that seemed to develop the most legs revolved around a basic household staple – milk. Three days before the fiscal lawmaking deadline, the Wall Street Journal published “How the Dairy Cliff will ‘Cream’ Consumers.” The story really churned after that. A search for “dairy crisis” on Google produced more than 10,000 articles and more than 15 million web results.
Why did milk become the story? I have a couple of theories.
1. The cost of a gallon of milk is easier to understand than the possible percentage increase in taxes. If you follow the Journal of Pediatrics recommendations, one child will drink a gallon of milk in one week. If you have 6 kids like I do, it is a gallon in a day and a half. Add it up, and it gets expensive. And that’s my point: You CAN add it up. Tax code, on the other hand, is extremely cumbersome and difficult to understand. Put two tax attorneys in the same room and they’d get two different answers.
2. Milk is also part of the collective conscious. It is hard to picture the $1,000 or more you are going to pay a year in increased payroll tax. On the other hand, if you close your eyes right now, you probably not only can picture a glass of milk, you can taste it. Americans grew up hankering for a hunk of cheese.
Hoosiers love their Dairy Barn at the Indiana State Fair. And who among us lactose-tolerant folks don’t love milk and cookies? Don’t mess with our milk.
The bottom line: Milk made the fiscal cliff accessible and that’s when middle America really started paying attention. Dairy was such a great hook, news outlets continue to “milk” the story. Robert Ford, a contributor to Forbes.com included the words, “dairy cliff,” more than a week later in a recent headline about the new payroll tax implications.
The lesson here for public relations practitioners? Find a memorable, easy way to relate your story to your audience. It is easy to get stuck in the big picture and worry about trying to explain the huge ramifications. It’s harder to figure out what your glass of milk will be to make the story resonate – but it is worth the effort.