Illustration on Truscott Rossman's promotional 2017 calendar
The art by talented Michigan illustrator Jay P. Fosgitt can't save this PR misfire.
Media people in metro Detroit can tell that the year is finally winding to a close when a certain mailpiece arrives. It’s the annual cartoon calendar
released by Michigan PR firm Truscott Rossman. They usually lampoon the Michigan political scene with a light touch, and the cartoons generally get a giggle out of us before they go into the garbage.
This year’s calendar, however, was a weird one. We got the main gag: It’s a locker room mostly featuring 2018’s gubernatorial aspirants warming up for the campaign season. The folks in red are from the GOP team, including Bill Schuette making some crack about the designation on what appears to be a bathroom door. In blue are the Dems, including Dan Kildee, who makes a quip about Donald Trump’s proposed “Muslim registry.”
The two major presidential candidates of 2016 are in there too: Donald Trump is covering his locker with “caution” tape, apparently stuffed to overflowing with profanities, while candidate Clinton whacks her smartphone with the cleats on her running shoe.
Over it all hover the faces of four apparent nonpoliticians, all nonwhite, looking down on the lockers with troubled, doubtful, or impassive faces, looking sort of like half-profile mugshots.
All the politicians are white. (Well, Trump is sort of orange.)
Oh, and flying over it all is a bat.
We passed it around the office and got puzzled reactions. Some wondered if jokes about gender and ethnic profiling were funny. Others conceded that the gag writers were trying to play it down the middle and likely wound up amusing nobody.
Many of the questions were about the portraits, or were they windows? Or were they portraits reacting as if they were alive?
We got in touch with the cartoon’s illustrator, Jay P. Fosgitt
, a Plymouth-based artist who has worked for such noted publishers as Marvel. A self-described person of “progressively left-leaning” politics, Fosgitt welcomed the chance to do a piece that poked fun at both sides of the aisle.
His description of how the contract work played out is something almost anybody who’s ever taken on a design contract can relate to.
“Every aspect of this art was dictated to me by a committee,” Fosgitt says, “with several rounds of revisions asked for before completion. I don't particularly enjoy what I call ‘creativity by committee,’ but in this case, at least I can credit them with the content.”
“I was stymied by some of the iconography they chose — the bat, evidently, is an inside joke amongst the firm,” he says.
The portraits, he says, “were meant to be various minority groups peering down at the politicians.” While Fosgitt says he wasn’t sure what to infer from the request, he tried to make them the straight men of the gag, not the punch line. “The way I drew it,” he says, “I took it as they were disappointed in the politicians, particularly Trump.”
But were they supposed to be portraits or windows or what?
It sounds as though Fosgitt has been through one revision too many to remember which they were supposed to be. "Jeez," he says. "I honestly don't [know] at this point."
Fosgitt sounds like a good guy, and we believe him — especially when he stresses that he never meant to offend anybody.
But, golly, wouldn’t you think that’s the job of his clients? After all, emblazoned on their website in 22-point type it reads
: “Our award-winning team is filled with great writers, speakers, strategists and communicators.”
You see, these Truscott Rossman guys are communications specialists
The person who receives the calendar should get the jokes, laugh, and put it on their wall, satisfied with an annual freebie. They should not be scratching their head.
To the firm’s credit, we soon heard from no less than the CEO herself, Kelly Rossman-McKinney, who told us the people were actually looking into the locker room.
“Our goal was simply to show that the minority community is still on the outside looking in at the political landscape in Michigan,” she said in an email.
So the minority communities of Michigan are actually peeking into a locker room?
That was the intent, Rossman-McKinney replied.
We would say more, but … hey, they’re
the communications experts.