Crisis Communication: Russia and America Hire PR Firm to Address Scandals

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Symbiosis Between Public Relations and Journalism

Having worked in both public relations and journalism, I find this piece by Paul Graham insightful. The PR industry “lurks like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news,” working under the surface to project and protect the interests of the businesses they work for. Journalists actually depend a great deal on public relations firms.

“Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren’t about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms,” he writes. PR firms invisibly guide and manipulate journalists — far more than journalists like to admit. Graham writes:

PR is not dishonest. Not quite. In fact, the reason the best PR firms are so effective is precisely that they aren’t dishonest. They give reporters genuinely valuable information. A good PR firm won’t bug reporters just because the client tells them to; they’ve worked hard to build their credibility with reporters, and they don’t want to destroy it by feeding them mere propaganda.

If anyone is dishonest, it’s the reporters. The main reason PR firms exist is that reporters are lazy. Or, to put it more nicely, overworked. Really they ought to be out there digging up stories for themselves. But it’s so tempting to sit in their offices and let PR firms bring the stories to them. After all, they know good PR firms won’t lie to them. A good flatterer doesn’t lie, but tells his victim selective truths (what a nice color your eyes are). Good PR firms use the same strategy: they give reporters stories that are true, but whose truth favors their clients.

I highly recommend this reflective piece. Click. (Reposted from my old blog, the Buie Knife.)

Quotes from Edward Bernays, ‘the Father of Public Relations’

It’s difficult to understand modern media, and modern public relations, without examining the life and work of Edward Bernays, who died at age 103 in 1995. He believed that individuals in “free societies” are not really free thinkers. They do not have the time to be scholars, to think critically  for themselves — their minds are molded, their tastes formed, their ideas are suggested, by the media (ie, propaganda), by education (ie, indoctrination), by their psychological needs for systematic thinking, by a desire for order, by the language used to describe things in either an appealing or pejorative way. Without such conscious or unconscious manipulation, societies fall into eternal conflict, chaos and anarchy, he contended.

A public relations practitioner is a social scientist, an advisor to organizations, who helps to educate and win over the public, to accept social goods or concepts. He wrote:

“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.”

Bernays’ views were controversial, in direct opposition to the ideology of many journalists, who saw themselves as seekers of facts, objective truths, offering fairness and balance without hidden agendas, and letting the readers decide for themselves what they believe.

Drill Deeper:

(A tip of the hat to Curt Olsen, whose article, “Bernays Vs. Ellul: Two Views of Propaganda,” in the July 2005 issue of PRSA’s Tactics inspired this post on my old blog, The Buie Knife.)

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