PI3547 Political Communication

Aberdeen, 16 February, 2005

Public Relations


   •   ‘the management of com...
‘If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind [it
               would be possible to] control and regimen...
o Insistent in tone
           o Impatient with argument
           o Repetitive
           o Mixes emotion with rationali...
o Accommodating media requirements
                  Deadlines
                  Photo-ops
      "The Circuit”
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  1. 1. PI3547 Political Communication Aberdeen, 16 February, 2005 Public Relations Definitions • ‘the management of communication between an organization and its publics’ (Grunig & Hunt, Managing public relations,1984) • ‘using communication to adapt relationships between organizations and their publics’ (Carl H. Botan “International public relations: Critique and reformulation” in Public Relations Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, 1992: 149-152) • ‘historically, most PR has been weak propaganda’ (Kevin Moloney, Rethinking PR: The Spin and the Substance, 2000) Approaches Asymmetrical or functional • Publics and communications understood as means to achieve organizational ends • Purpose of PR: to generate support, trust, enhance reputation; ultimately to maximise material or other benefits through generating a more conducve social environment • Key theorist: Edward Bernays • Works: o Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) o Propaganda (1928) o The Engineering of Consent (1947). • Quotes o ‘The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ... We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ... In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons ... who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.’ 1
  2. 2. ‘If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind [it would be possible to] control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it. . . . Theory and practice have combined with sufficient success to permit us to know that in certain cases we can effect some change in public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy by operating a certain mechanism, just as the motorist can regulate the speed of his car by manipulating the flow of gasoline.’ Symmetrical or co-creational • Communication, rhetoric and PR understood as joint creation of meaning that involves interested (economic, social, political) actors as well as their publics • PR as relationship-management • Publics are partners in the “meaning-making” process, not means to an end • Proposing a more ethical approach to PR • Key theorists: Ivy Lee, J. Grunig • Quotes o ‘We always tell our clients that honesty is the best policy. […] All our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news. . . . Our plan is, frankly and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and the public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.’ (Ivy Lee, Statement of Principles, 1906) o ‘symmetrical public relations does not take place in an ideal situation where competing interests come together with goodwill to resolve their differences because they share a goal of social equilibrium and harmony. Rather it takes place in situations where groups come together to protect and enhance their self-interests. Argumentation, debate and persuasion take place. But dialogue, listening, understanding and relationship building also occur because they are more effective in resolving conflict than are one-way attempts at compliance gaining’ (J. Grunig, “Two-Way Symmetrical Public Relations: Past, Present, and Future”, in Handbook of Public Relations, 2001) Two myths of PR • Bernays’ myth o that public opinion could be manufactured for a price, bought and sold like any other commodity • Lee’s myth o that PR is natural, honorable and honest--part of the "two-way street" process of democratic communications between businesses and their "publics." Democratising PR • Empirically, most PR qualifies as (weak) propaganda o Communication of the powerful o Seeking to justify and maintain their dominant position 2
  3. 3. o Insistent in tone o Impatient with argument o Repetitive o Mixes emotion with rationality o Readier to tell than listen • Notion of ‘propaganda’ purged from public language in Western democracies • Accelerated pluralism o PR as the voice of competing values and behaviours and their representative bodies o Challenge to the established power of government, big businesses and institutionalised religion o No equal power and influence for all interests o PR from business, government and established organizations more influential than that from NGOs, grassroot movements, etc o The relatively powerless and marginalised have adopted the communicative form and style of the powerful: they were propagandised against; now they propagandise o PR clashes between interest groups; almost no propaganda campaign remains undiscovered and unanswered • Pluralism, and decentralised access to means and mode of communication, gradually democratises propaganda Applications of PR • Crisis management  Reputation management  Issue management  Investor relations and labor relations  Grassroots PR (astroturf PR) PR methods and tools  Press Conference (or "news conference") o Selection of time and place o Selection of journalists o Control over agenda  Press Release (or "news release") o Written statement distributed to the press o Accommodating media requirements  News story style  Third person  Quotes  Reference to media contacts o Aiming to appropriate gatekeeping function from media  The Publicity Event (or publicity "stunt") o Pseudo-events, whose sole purpose is to generate media attention 3
  4. 4. o Accommodating media requirements  Deadlines  Photo-ops  "The Circuit” o Television and radio talk show appearances  Of PR spokesperson or client  Tailored to reach specific audiences  Sponsorship Objectives of PR • Gaining credibility through news o Status-conferral function of media (Merton & Lazarsfeld, 1944) • Publicity o management of product or brand related communications between the firm and the general public o informative activity (as opposed to a persuasive one) o aimed at obtaining favorable press coverage for a companies products Notion of publicity can entail more than benefit- or profit-related self-promotion • The philosophical concept of publicity o ‘fittest law for securing the public confidence’, precondition for ‘putting the tribunal of the public in a condition for forming an enlightened judgment’ (Bentham) o ‘The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men’ (Kant) o ‘the principle of the public sphere … is critical publicity’ (Habermas) • Publicity as principle of democratic government o Openness o Transparency o Responsivity o Responsibility • Philosophical definition ignored by PR practitioners and theorists alike • Justifications of PR practice do contain some elements of the philosophical concept of publicity o PR as information o PR as reputation building Source: Slavko Splichal (2002) “The principle of publicity, public use of reason and social control” Media, Culture & Society Vol. 24, No. 1, 5-26 4