PR=Propaganda?

The Official Facebook Public Relations Wall is providing some great content for me! I’ll have to do another blog just on the Facebook experience…

Omar Ha-Redeye, a student of Gary Schlee‘s at Centennial College, posted this video from PR Watch on YouTube. PR Watch is a program of the Center for Media and Deomcracy, a nonprofit designed to strengthen participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda, and by promoting media literacy and citizen journalism, media “of, by and for the people.”

(Feedreaders, click through to watch the video)

PR=Propaganda?

Some of the claims in the video inlcude that PR=Propaganda. Propaganda, lest we forget, is defined (by Wikipedia) as:

is a type of message aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of people. Instead of impartially providing information, propaganda is often deliberately misleading, using logical fallacies, which, while sometimes convincing, are not necessarily valid.

I’d like to think that the majority of campaigns I’ve worked on have all been based on truth, not logical fallacies. In the post-Sarbanes-Oxley world, is there any other way? In terms of impartially providing information, isn’t it a media relations best practice to become a trusted source of information to media?

No Seperation of Church and State

PR Watch’s video goes on to claim that the media is in cohorts with PR (the propagandists) because of the money advertising pours into its coffers. I’m not sure if the Center for Media and Democracy has tried to leverage its ad buy for editorial coverage in Canada, but if it has, I’m sure it would’ve been given the same answer any frustrated rookie PR trying to do it would get. F@#! off.

The seperation between church (editorial) and state (advertising) is one of, if not the, reasons that the media is, and remains, such a trusted source of information. If the lines are indeed blurring, it’s why bloggers are quickly becoming the influencers and why some many people are trying to keep blogging pure and free from the advertiser’s dollar.

The Best PR is Invisible

…and therefore insiduous. The video lays out three of the big agencies – Edelman, Burson-Marstellar and Hill & Knowlton ironically missing out the biggest all, my (end) employer Fleishman-Hillard – as examples of huge agencies no-one’s ever heard of. I’m sorry PR Watch, but I’ve never heard of any of the huge media buying firms that pay for all of the shows on TV either. Does that mean they’re insiduous and evil propagandists too?

Yes a lot of PR agencies are invisible but there are plenty of PR people who are openly talking about what we do, how we do it and why we need to get better at doing it. Transparency is a fast becoming a must in this business.

A Quote

It is arguable that the success of busines propaganda in persuading us, for so long that we are free from propaganda is one of the most significant propaganda acheivements of the twentieth century.

While it’s true that most PR’s are happy to take a back seat, isn’t that because we’re not paid to take the credit? Our mandate is to paint our clients in the most positive light in the eyes of their audience. Not to get barrels of ink spilled over what we’ve done. Advertising agencies get a decent profile but that’s because advertising is Big. Bold. Flashy. Expensive.

Conclusion

It seems to me that the system, as we have it currently, is pretty self regulating. The media is inherently weighted towards “real news” and to the story of the “underdog”.

The little guy’s story has as much, if not more, of a chance of getting their story told by a media that is constantly looking for compelling stories to tell to their audience. Is there a more compelling story than the proverbial David and Goliath one?

Are people smart enough to realise that for all the great free programs they see on public stations, they have to pay the piper in the form of advertising and marketing directed towards them? My girlfriend had a fit when I suggested her favourite program was simply filler for the next advert break…

Small is the new big, but don’t big companies have the right to have their stories told as well?

Questions; Follow Up

I’d be curious to know what other people, especially Strumpette Inc., think of this. Is PR as genuinely unethical as PR Watch would have us believe? If so, are all the advances we make in terms of transparency and ethical outreach, simply small fish in a very pissed in pond? Or is it, as most things are these days, six of “them” and half a dozen of that?

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16 Responses to PR=Propaganda?

  1. Dude, logically fallacious or not, PR is about creating importance where there is none.

    Don’t you remember what it was like to want to make the world a better place?

  2. Ed,

    The BIG picture? PR is at an interesting point in its history. Revenues are soaring right as this thing called the Internet threatens to disintermediate us.

    Here’s a little long-winded explanation (sorry): In the past the traditional role for a PR person was to craft a corporate story and deliver it to the public by pitching the media. Today, with the Internet, PR doesn’t need the media (ask Richard Edelman and all the Conversation Marketing folks). One can take “the message” directly to a target audience. The problem with that is that fiction is inextricably related to what a PR person does fundamentally. We craft the corporate story for a (by definition) legal fiction called “the corporation.” In the past the media was the vetting mechanism. Unfortunately, with that derailed, the potential for fraud has never been greater. Coincidentally, PR revenues have never been greater.

    BUT… PR’s new new thing, the Internet, has grown to reject PR’s presence. Today, people are hyper vigilant about being surreptitiously influenced by anyone.

    It is an interesting time to be in PR to say the least.

    Sincerely,

    Amanda Chapel
    Managing Editor
    Strumpette

  3. Dave LaMorte says:

    I think there is more to PR than trying to push ideas. PR is about expressing a company’s ideas and point of view. There are a lot of people who have pushed way too far and have created stuff like news reports and think tanks to spin stories.

    The real problem is that PR is no longer about outreach and has become opinion shaping.

  4. Ed Lee says:

    I think the true value in PR comes when, instead of shouting from the roof tops about how remarkable our clients are, we turn our analysis, perspective and media intelligence on our clients and make them remarkable.

    Hopefully this would mean any media stories are genuine news (Apple?) and not spun fluff that damages the credilibility of the journalists, client and PR.

    Ed

  5. Doug Haslam says:

    That video is scary– frankly, I don’t recognize anything I do in the doomsday philosophy shown in that video– but I have no doubt it exists either. I am torn between being angry about all PR being lumped in with the “evil spinmeisters,” especially in the public affairs world, and applauding the need for watch dogs to ferret out the evil actors. I’m not 100% convinced this PR Watch guy knows the difference.

    To Amanda’s point– yes, the new online media folks are more wary of PR than ever. This is why “transparency” has risen to the level of cliche. We no longer can stay behind the scenes. I am happy to let my clients get the ink and glory they pay us for, but sometime our names/agencies/brands will have to be right in there in the middle of the PR/story process.

  6. David Jones says:

    You can’t be an organization like PR Watch, PETA, WWF, Greenpeace, MADD et al without taking the extreme position on the things you rail against. They are manipulators and propagandists as well. Unfortunately, most humans need polarization: black vs. white; good vs. evil; tastes great vs. less filling. We have personal positions on things and we often times take them to the extreme when we really believe.

    My take on this is that we should all accept that every organization are propagandists. Corporation, government, trade union, charity, interest group, hockey team. Everybody has things they’d like people to believe about them, and things they’d rather not have people focus on…isn’t that human nature.

    I really hope that the Internet continues to accelerate the need to believable. That hasn’t been a strong consideration for a while now. With all sides exposed via the web, we should be able to make our own minds up based on all the facts. If you can’t control the one-way message any more, then I’d hope that will be more of a focus on honesty, transparency, credibility, accountability and unspun truth.

    Not everyone’s ready for that, but hopefully we’ll get there.

  7. [...] tip to Ed Lee…read his great post and the comments for [...]

  8. Ed,

    Thank you for sharing your insight.

    I am glad at least that the video stimulated some discussion, and I hope we all learned something from it.

    I always appreciate hearing different perspectives on an issue to develop a more balanced stance personally.

  9. [...] surrounded by people who actually believe that marketing isn’t the darkside and that the PR biz isn’t fundamentally insidious, and these slime-balls are starting to rub off on [...]

  10. [...] post of the day. You see, in that resolution post, I (1) admitted to being a marketer, (2) linked Ed Lee’s blog, and (3) called marketers and spin doctors slimeballs. Subsequently, Ed sent me the following [...]

  11. ren25 says:

    Just found the PRWatch vid on Youtube and in googling to see who had commented on it, found your response. You have commented on it much more thoroughly than me! (linking you, methinks)

  12. [...] this, I thought I’d look to see what has already been discussed about this and found an excellent response far better written than my efforts. Perhaps there are others out there, from within the PR [...]

  13. Rebecca Eras says:

    If it weren’t for PR, the people at PR Watch wouldn’t have a job! We’re their bread and butter, baby!

  14. [...] Ed Lee links to the PR Watch video on YouTube – and discusses the claim that PR equals propaganda (as a [...]

  15. Hildebrant says:

    Oh man, I don’t think so!

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