Jul 1, 2007

Confessions Of A Propagandist aka PR Pro

There is a line between public relations and propaganda - or there should be. And there is a difference between using your skills, in good faith, to help rescue a battered reputation and using them to twist the truth - to sow confusion and doubt on issue[s] critical to human survival.

And it is infuriating - as a public relations professional - to watch my colleagues use their skills, their training and their considerable intellect to poison debate[s].

Here's the way it works: Public relations is not a process of telling people what to think; people are too smart for that, and North Americans are way too stubborn. Tell a bunch of North Americans what they are supposed to think and you're likely to wind up the only person at the party enjoying your can of New Coke.

No, the trick to executing a good PR campaign is twofold: you figure out what people are thinking already; and then you nudge them gently from that position to one that is closer to where you want them to be. The first step is research: you find out what they know and understand; you identify the specific gaps in their knowledge. Then you fill those gaps with a purpose-built campaign. You educate. If people are afraid to take Tylenol (as they were after someone poisoned some pills), you explain the extensive safety precautions now typical in the pharmaceutical industry. If people think Martha Stewart is arrogant and uncaring, you create opportunities for her to show a more human side.

In the best cases - the cases that are most personally rewarding - the advice you give to clients actually drives corporate behavior. That is, if a client wants to protect or revive their reputation, if they want to convince the public that they're running a responsible company and doing the right thing, the most obvious public relations advice is that they should do the right thing.

It's the kind of advice that, historically, has been a hard sell in the tobacco industry, in the asbestos industry - and too often in the automotive industry. Those sectors have provided some of the most famous examples of PR disinformation: "smoking isn't necessarily bad for you;" "it's not an absolute certainty that asbestos will give you cancer;" "your seatbelt might actually kill you if you're the one person in five million who flips his car into a watery ditch."
-Hacked & De-/Re-Contextualized Excerpt of A Jim Hoggan Post At DeSmogBlog

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