24 January 2010

Public Relations has many faces

About a week ago I was encouraged to start my own blog, and precisely a blog about public relations. I probably would never dare to write one about the industry on my own, but as I’m trying to enter PR world I can only hope that having a bit questioning and analyzing look at it would be helpful in discovering what this profession is really like. So, here it goes… 

To me PR was always about reputation, persuasion, creativity and changing stereotypes. I was very impressed with Edward Bernays’ successful attempt of breaking “cigarettes taboo” in 1920’s when smoking was reserved only for men, and when no woman dared to smoke publicly. He managed to change society’s opinion in favor of women who were then able to smoke cigarettes wherever they felt like, and moreover, he convinced both sexes that cigarettes actually make females look more attractive. How powerful does this sound?

Of course today PR people are working on reversing that change Bernays implemented and encouraging men and woman to quit smoking. But back then when Bernays broke that stereotype he actually showed that perceptions can be altered and new images can be built on that. Yet, as his idea of doing this might seem simple and to some people today even obvious, it actually demanded originality at the time, vision and knowledge about human psychology (which probably mean that to be good at PR one has to have many talents).  

PR is about grasping someone’s attention, building images, associations and emotional bonds with brands. It’s about giving meaning to things and creating sentiments, I could even argue that it could create values among communities by, for example, using corporate social responsibility. But, of course, that’s not all about public relations. There’s more to it.

Last week I learned about another side to PR – the darker and more manipulative one. I started to associate it with political public relations and Burton explains it in his book Inside Spin: the dark underbelly of the PR industry: the closer PR professional is to the ‘heart of corporate and government decision-making’ the closer his role resembles propaganda.

About that propaganda…

Adolf Hitler said that: “All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it…. Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.”

I read this and, even though I want to be a part of public relations industry, it actually makes me feel uneasy when I imagine how many things there are we take for granted (or for what they are) not realising that they might be just an effect of somebody’s plot planned for us (people/societies).
To find out more about Bernay’s PR watch film Century of Self” part 1.


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