Tradition Eleven

Tradition Eleven

“Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.”

‘Our public relations policy is based…’

It is a surprise to some members to find out that AA does have public relations. The word “anonymous” in our name gives many the impression we don’t publicise AA, but we do. In fact we have a responsibility to do so. If somebody discovered a way of permanently putting cancer into remission, then it would be their responsibility to ensure as many people as possible knew about it. AA has a way of giving a daily reprieve from another fatal disease: alcoholism. Therefore it is our responsibility to ensure that as many people as possible know of the existence of AA, how to contact us, and what AA offers.

However, experience shows us that we also need a “policy”. In the early days of AA there were no tried and tested methods for AA’s public relations and a number of things were done which were found to be damaging to AA and to individual members. So Tradition 11 tells us what the basis (“is based on…”) of our public relations policy should be; whether at local, national or international level. We ignore these time-tested lessons of experience at our peril.

 ‘…attraction rather than promotion…’

The dictionary defines “promoting” as “to advance in rank, dignity, position; to encourage the sales, acceptance of (a product), especially through advertising or other publicity.” Advertising and publicity can be used for promoting, but are not promoting themselves. They only become promoting if used to put AA above other organisations, or to tell people they should come to AA.

We do not promote AA, but we must advertise its existence. Large billboards have been placed up by main roads, and radio and television adverts produced. Whether these are promoting or not depends on their content. If a billboard says “Come to AA, we’re simply the best!”, or if the TV advert says “Alcoholics Anonymous, better than your GP”; that would be promoting. The long form of the Tradition says “We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising” and “there is never need to praise ourselves”.

However, as well as advertising our existence there is another thing that brings people to AA. That is the recommendation of friends of AA, of family members and GPs who have seen people recover. These recoveries and their affects are “attractive”. 

‘…personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.’

This Tradition is only concerned with personal anonymity, the anonymity of the individual, not the anonymity of the Fellowship as a whole. As we have already said, AA is not a secret society. To hide ourselves away would be to kill alcoholics who could be saved. And in fact members only have to be secretive at one level: the level of press, radio and films.

We do not have to be anonymous to our fellow AA members. Also – if appropriate – we can tell our friends, family and employers that we are members of AA. However we cannot reveal it at the level of press, radio and films. We can say we are an AA member as long as we do not give our full name, or reveal our face. It’s fine to show our face and give our full name and say we’re an alcoholic. That’s not breaking anonymity. It’s only if I say I’m a member of AA as well. This is not to hide ourselves, but it is to keep the general public focused on our principles.

It is a standard technique of public relations to have a spokesperson. Virgin and Microsoft had Richard Branson and Bill Gates. It is a powerful way of bringing attention to a company. However it is not a way us ego-driven alcoholics are suited to. Repeatedly it has been shown that when individuals break their anonymity at the level of press, radio and films, it damages their sobriety and can lead to drinking. If I’m a famous actor and I break my anonymity at the level of press because I think it would “help AA”, I am immediately changing my relationship to AA. AA is no longer helping me, I’m helping it. I am in danger of feeling bigger than AA. Furthermore it has been found that once one person breaks anonymity, others feel justified to and a rash of anonymity breaks occur. As an aside, it does AA no good either when an anonymity-breaker goes and very publicly gets drunk…

A final thing to note is that the “level of press, radio and films” nowadays includes television, DVD, video, any freely distributable media (podcasts etc.), and internet sites that anyone can access.

AK, Road to Recovery Group, Plymouth