May 14, 2011

San Manuel's PR strategy

San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians Gets the Message Out with Television AdvertisingThe San Manuel band of Serrano Mission Indians, located in Highland, California near San Bernardino, have for years been producing educational commercials (see them on the tribe’s website, about their tribe and its contributions to the community. It’s an interesting PR strategy in an era when politicians don’t think twice about scapegoating tribal gaming, for any number of reasons. We spoke with communications director Jacob Coin.

What was the message?

We wanted to show what gaming revenues were being used for. The first wave of tribal compacts were signed in 1999, and our message to the public was that your vote helps us be more self-sufficient. We wanted to say to people, If you vote for Proposition 5, in 1998, or Proposition 1A in 2000, you’re voting for schools and fire stations. You’re voting for Indian self-determination.

So the commercials are no longer a statewide effort—why does the San Manuel Band keep making them?

We do two to three of them a year, and we show them to focus groups, and what we’ve found is that people are really interested in the history. And I think it’s important for me to point out that these are made by the tribal government side, not the gaming side. We know that the public would rather learn about history than see a casino ad, and we’re proud of our history and the positive contributions we’ve made to the communities here in the San Bernadino Valley.
Comment:  San Manuel may have more money per capita than any other tribe, which makes this strategy possible. But it's using its money wisely: reaching out with business ventures, charitable donations, and this PR campaign. Other tribes should strive to emulate the San Manuel model.

For more on the subject, see San Manuel Launches TV Channel and TV Spots About San Manuel History.

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