Find connection between PR and social media

Sunday, 30 January 2011

If your presentation sucks wear red!

The key to successful communication lies in good recognition of the context we operate in. The context consists of: characteristics of people we are talking to (what is the environment they live in, what are their beliefs, attitudes and motivations) and the situational factors within we communicate.

While we can’t do much about other people’s believes and attitudes, we can however take a partial control upon their perceptions during the communicational process. Our perceptions of others strongly depend on type of the medium we communicate through.

The most famous example of that is a case of American presidential debate in 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard N. Nixon. The debate was broadcasted by both television and radio. After the debate it turned out that between the radio and TV audience there are remarkable differences in the candidates’ appraisal.

People who were watching debate in TV better rated Kennedy, whose appearance was simply better that his opponent’s. He was younger, more handsome, his behaviour was smooth. Nixon was acting unsteadily, he didn’t have make-up, couldn’t stand in one place, was sweating. However people who were listening to the debate on the radio, gave the higher ranks to Nixon, whose speech was more convincing for them than the Kennedy’s.

It is a clear proof that the observers’ perception is strongly connected to the medium of communication. It indicates that we should tune in our way of communicating to the medium – maybe if the debate was only transmitted by the radio, Nixon would have won the elections.

The differences which determine our perception on the type of the communication canal we can explain by the psychological theory (Petty and Cacioppo (1981) of two routes to persuasion: central and peripheral.

Persuasion is only effective when the receiver’s attention is respectively direct either to the power of arguments (verbal communication) or to so called peripheral indicators (non-verbal communication).

Directing the attention to the appropriate rout depends, in turn, on the conditions of message reception. When a person is focused on considering  the arguments – for example when is reading an article, then he focuses on the merits of the statement. But when his attention is distracted and he doesn’t recognise the substance and logics of the arguments (which most often happen during TV watching) then the person concentrate on superficial aspects and simple signs which in psychology are called as heuristics – for example if the person is attractive, if is an expert, or if others agree with his view. Drawing on this mechanism we can explain why in 1960’s debate for TV audience won Kennedy, and for radio listeners won Nixon.

So the next time if you don’t have time to prepare your presentation well, at least wear the best clothes you have, or put something red on. According to the central and peripheral theory of persuasion you will divert your audience’s attention from your arguments to the peripheral aspects of your appearance.

Extracts from my BA dissertation (2010): 'Selected methods of building a personal image in the media’

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Public Relations and Propaganda

PR is often charged with accusations of being propagandistic communication and media manipulation. It is very interesting issue, as by examining the literature of PR we can find out that even among theorists and academics of PR there is a considerable dispute on the problem of a genuine nature of PR.

Historically the ‘public relations’ and ‘propaganda’ were interchangeable terms and there was no difference in meaning. The concept of these phenomena was a mere response to the popular opinion makers (Gustave Le Bon, Walter Lipmann, Harold Laswell, Edward Bernays) and psychological discourses of that time, that the masses of people in a system of democracy are not able to think and act rationally and need to be guided by elites, as Edward Bernays wrote in Propaganda (1928), in the first chapter titled: Organising Chaos:

Edward Bernays - the father of PR
“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.”

The attitude towards the word ‘propaganda’ had changed after the II World War when it got negative associations due to its use by hated regimes and consequently the term was permanently changed to ‘public relations’.

Many PR academics point out that actually many definitions of propaganda could cover definitions of public relations: “many basic definitions of propaganda could be equally well used to describe public relations.” (J. L’Etang, 2009).

Morris and Goldsworthy (2008) ask what if there was nothing what could differentiate PR from propaganda and they respond: “Our contention is that there are no real moral distinctions: both practices are essentially amoral, capable of serving any cause.” Authors however propone three ways of differencing PR from propaganda, although their nature is more connected to the context in which they operate (democracy vs. regime) and to the potentially available techniques, than to the moral capital:
1.  It [public relations] has far few levers of influence to pull on.
2.  It exists in conditions where many competing persuasive message are communicated.
3.  The public relations practitioner, unlike the propagandist, does not have effective powers of censorship or any lasting control over the media.
To get the bigger picture on how the discipline of public relations was born I recommend watching the documentary Century of the Self:

1.     Fawkes, J., Public relations, propaganda and the psychology of persuasion. in: Tench, R., Yeomans, L., (2006). Exploring Public Relations. Harlow: Financial Times Prentice Hall.

2.     L’Etang, J.,(2009). Public Relations: concepts, practice and critique. Sage Publications.

3.     L'Etang, J., Pieczka, M., (1996). Critical perspectives in Public Relations. International Thomson Business Press.

4.     Moloney, K., (2000). Rethinking Public Relations: The Spin and the Substance. London and New York: Routledge.

5.     Morris, T., Goldsworthy, S., (2008). PR - a persuasive industry? Spin, public relations, and the shaping of the modern media. Palgrave McMillan.

6.     Theaker, A., (2008). The Public Relations Handbook. 3nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.