Theory Junkie: International Public Relations

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I’m a sucker for theories and I love talking about them.

In today’s episode of the Theory Junkie, we talk about International Public Relations.

Is global PR possible? What does it mean? Is it different than international PR?

These questions were the last to be posed during our Theory & Issues class. And what a great way to finish off the MA PR course at Westminster!

First off, we were introduced to the differences between global PR (GPR) and international PR (IPR). Global PR is a term that refers to the internationalisation of the profession, whereas International PR deals with planning and conducting communication in a foreign country.

As the lecture went on, I was fascinated to learn about the following model used to plan international PR activities:

IPR

As we were going through the various factors influencing IPR in a foreign country, I started to see a pattern that bore a striking resemblance to another model – the PEST analysis:

PEST

 

PEST is a marketing model that serves a similar function: to discern macro-environmental factors and penetrate a foreign market.

The similarities between the two models is evident. Not only do their main components refer to the same factors, but they are also both used as a strategic management tool aimed at analysing and planning for activities in an alien environment.

Of course the nuances are there for a reason. Technology becomes Media Technology and Economy becomes Marketplace. These slight alterations serve to facilitate the fact that PR deals mainly with media, and a free and mature marketplace, as well as media consumption habits are the key factors specific to communication activities. Finally, Culture takes central position because communication is perceived very differently around the world.

As these revelations sent nerd chills up my spine, I began to wonder: “Which one is the principal model”?

“It must be PEST”, I thought. “PR is but a part of the Maketing Mix’s Promotion branch.”

Does it really matter in the context of anything but an academic debate? Likely not.

But then I remembered about a list of trends in PR for 2012 by the PRSA and specifically the Convergence trend.

As boundaries between marketing and PR continue to blur, perhaps in 10 years time, the difference between the origins of these models will be nothing but a footnote in some academic’s PhD dissertation, and all that will be taught in educational institutions will simply be “Communication”.

Theory Junkie: Review of Power, Persuasion and Propaganda in PR

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I’m a sucker for theories and I love talking about them.

In today’s episode of the Theory Junkie, we explore the subject of control, power, persuasion and propaganda.

Far on the opposing end of Grunig’s optimistic theories of mutual understanding and benefit, reside authors such as Jowett and O’Donnell, L’Etang and Pieczka, Bernays and Miller. They write about power, persuasion and propaganda. Here, in the dark dominion of PR, control is everything.

Edward Bernays’ book “Propaganda” written almost a century ago in 1928 is perhaps the most famous example of a theoretical manifesto on this subject. Bernays talked of the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses, an unseen mechanism aimed at governing opinion, molding minds and forming tastes, largely by men we have never heard of”. A haunting legacy bequeathed to the Public Relations industry by the “father of PR”, these words continue to echo negatively in every debate on the ethics, the good will and the positive premise of PR as a whole.

Many theorists have built their arguments on Bernays’ ideas. Among them, Jowett and O’Donnell are two of the most recent. They developed the so called purpose model of propaganda. In essence, the model states that propaganda has the purpose of promoting the interest of one party to the detriment (or at the very least, not necessarily to the benefit) of another. It is characterised by control of the information flow, management of public opinion, and manipulation of behavioural patterns.

L’Etang and Pieczka’s take on the subject is from the viewpoint of rhetoric and persuasion. They present a counterpoint to Grunig’s ideas of symmetry (and asymmetry) by quoting Miller as saying that public relations is a “process which attempts to manage symbolic control over the environment”, arguing that “effective persuasion and effective public relations are ‘virtually synonymous because both are primarily concerned with exerting symbolic control over relevant aspects of the environment’”. L’Etang and Pieczka conclude that  through the very engagement in the creation of the persuasive message, the “persuadee” becomes convinced in the argument, and in their fair contribution to its formation.

The ideas presented in this short review are very different from the basic ideas of control as a function of simply exercising and managing the job. The concepts here refer to the very notion of control – through power, with the purpose of retaining, exerting and benefiting from it, and often against the conscious or unconscious will of the opposing party. In fact only Miller – with his idea of participation, albeit artificial and manipulated – speak of some sort of consent.

Control, in this sinister view on PR, is everything: it resides over behaviour and opinion, over messages and flow of information, over the rationale and over the mind.

So the question is, should the PR industry be ashamed, hide or deny the existence of such paradigms? Should we continue to discard stereotypes such as the one in Thank You for Smoking? The trends are certainly taking us in this direction and away from Bernays’ teachings.

But I can’t help but wonder, aren’t all these “bad things” that we can do what makes as unique as service-providers? I can’t imagine how persuasion and propaganda will ever seize to exist, so who will partake in those if we suddenly stopped offering them to a client, or our boss?

I think what is happening now and will continue to be the norm in the foreseeable future, is that talking, rather than doing it, will always be a taboo.

Avoid it or not, maintaining control, preserving power, exercising persuasion and carrying out propaganda are part of a PR practitioner’s skill set, and in some cases even your job description.

Theory Junkie: Political Communication

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I’m a sucker for theories and I love talking about them.

In today’s episode of the Theory Junkie, we explore McNair’s definitions of Political Communication.

McNair is the author of the series “An Introduction to Political Communication“.

I was introduced to this author by my course leader Pam Williams during a dissertation seminar. Herself a Political Communication Master, she guided me into essentially juxtaposing my entire dissertation hypothesis with McNair’s work.

In the book’s 2nd edition, we are first given a brief history of political communication in the US. I found that quite interesting. Turns out, it is a spin-off of corporate communication, and much like PR’s own history, it traces its roots back to Ivy Lee and Bernays in the dawn of the 20th century as a means to manage public opinion on war. Interestingly enough, since 1932, PR consultants have held “one or more seats on the central board of virtually every presidential candidate” and with the creation of Campaigns Inc. in 1933, the political communication industry has legitimised itself into being instrumental to every politician’s successful mandate or campaign.

McNair describes two main methods for practicing Political Communication – Political Advertising and Political Public Relations. The core difference between the two, is what McNair refers to as the utilisation of ‘free media’ as means for publicity. Ultimately, McNair’s meticulous explanation of the difference between Political Advertising and PR, narrows down to one underlying aspect – payment for services.

McNair defines Political Advertising as “the purchase and use of advertising space, paid for at commercial rates, in order to transmit political messages to a mass audience”, another important element being that “politicians have complete artistic and editorial control (over the advertisements –Ed)”

Political Public Relations, on the other hand, is centred around the use of ‘free media’, or in other words, media outlets that do not charge for their services, but merely cover the politician or party’s activities. Free media, McNair argues, provides politicians with a platform for “exposure and coverage, without having to pay media organisations for the privilege”. The flip side is that while there is a higher level of authenticity and ‘believability’ in this type of communication because “editorial responsibility is seen to belong with the journalist”, “a politician’s appearance on a news or discussion programme is genuinely outside his or her editorial control”.

Now, these definitions make a lot of sense and are entirely applicable a whole decade since their publication. But of course, we can’t help but ponder what the implications of the Internet revolution are? Today as in 1999, political advertising and PR are equally important to the success of political communication, but whereas millions are spent on TV and radio spots, McNair’s definition of PR as “free of charge” holds true now more than ever with the rise of Social Media.

So the question is, will the Internet, or some part thereof, ever be considered equally fundamental to Political Communication as advertising and PR, or will it forever be considered just a part of the two, or a means to an end?

In practical terms, Obama’s election campaigns have already revolutionised the industry, but I doubt whether the Internet can ever be constrained in academic paradigms that make sense on paper just as they do in practice.

 

Theory Junkie: Accountability Structure

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I’m a sucker for theories and I love talking about them.

In today’s episode of the Theory Junkie, we explore the Accountability Structure and CSR.

We were introduced to this model during a guest lecture by Michael Hoevel from Glasshouse Partnership.

An old model of relationships between pillars of society in the capitalist world, this paradigm has seen significant developments over the years. While its continuous alteration keeps it relevant, its universal application has come under scrutiny in today’s ever so rapidly changing world.

Classic

The classic interpretation of this model establishes the relationships between the Public Sector, the Private Sector and the Citizens (depicted as Civil Society).

Businesses pay taxes to the government in exchange for regulation, access to the market and protection. The government grants the people representation of their aspirations and public goods such as healthcare and education in exchange for being elected into power. Businesses receive money from society in exchange for products and services they deliver. And in the middle of it all is the Media – standing guard as the fourth pillar of authority, revealing and punishing the untruthful. This is in essence, how our world works. These relationship, whether fair or not, represent how we have come to establish modern civilisation. Of course coffee companies don’t always pay taxes, supermarket chains don’t always deliver beef when they say they do, governments don’t always live up to the expectations of people, and most certainly of all, the media doesn’t always hold true to its role as a guardian of it all. Such is life.

But, as these complex relationships mature, mutations and amalgamations emerge:

Advanced

Instead of having NASA fly space shuttles into orbit, we now have SpaceX, Instead of hoping for salvation to come from the heavens and land in the puddle that we use to wash our clothes in, we now have bankers with Nobel Peace prizes. Instead of relying on the government to safeguard our environment, we have created organisations like Greenpeace and WWF. And instead of hoping that the media will bring justice to the corrupt, some would argue, we now have social media, WikiLeaks and Anonymous.

So where does Corporate Social Responsibility come into these “newborn” categories of NGOs, Public-Private Partnerships and Social Entrepreneurship?

That’s for the communication professionals to decide. CSR is what we say it is. Is advancing space exploration through government contracts not socially responsible? Is lifting millions from poverty through banking not Nobel Peace prize worthy? Is our planet not worth saving? Is the Internet not the ultimate sentinel of human knowledge?

The Accountability Structure does not provide the answer. It simply establishes the framework within which these questions can exist.

How we mould these questions, is what CSR is all about.