Archive | PR RSS feed for this section

Review: MyPRStack 2.0

20 Oct

When I was asked if I’d like to write a review of the second edition of MyPRStack – an open source publication aimed at simplifying and explaining the tools and practices that form the basis of modern PR and Marcomms workflows, all lovingly curated by Stephen Waddington (@Wadds) Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum PR – I honestly did not know where to start. The reason for this is simple: its breadth and depth are as vast as its aspirations and ethos are admirable.

bothbooks

Split over 30 chapters and 120 pages, MyPRStack will introduce the reader to a huge range of digital tools – predominantly tools that practitioners can use totally free of charge (though some have more advanced enterprise versions that do carry costs) – with each tool explained by some of the best and brightest in the PR and Marcomms industry right now.

While on the subject of cost, you can download a digital copy of MyPRStack edition 2 right now and totally for free on the following link (It is also available in hard copy if, like me, you enjoy the owning of books). This is one of the things I most admire about MyPRStack, at its heart beats the aspiration to help make the industry better and more effective because in doing so we become more credible.

Learn from Rich Leigh (@RichLeighPR) on how you can Open Site Explorer to influence media and Blogger engagement; Agharad Welsh (@Welsh_PR) on using Talkwater to Steer through a crisis; Stella Bayles (@stellabayles) on using google trends to prove audience action; Tim Lloyd (Timolloyd) on getting real people to test your digital content…I could go on and this is one of MyPRStacks biggest strengths each and every chapter is a gold mine of practical information. MyPRStack is your guide to the free tools with practical advice that can make you better at how you do the day-to-day tasks involved in delivering brilliant campaigns, managing crises and measuring the effectiveness of what you do. There is not a single publication, that I am aware of, that comes even half-way close to delivering on that.

In the current climate of shrinking budgets for communication teams, especially for those working in-house, it’s unlikely that your manager is going to be able (or willing) to send you on 30 training courses to learn about these tools. MyPRStack exists so you, the practitioner, can take charge of your professional development and learn in a very accessible way from those who have trodden the path before you.

There are a number of tools explained that I was not aware of and/or tools I was aware of being used in ways I had simply not thought of. I’m still processing a lot of the learning from the second edition of MyPRStack, but I’m fairly confident in saying that I will improve as a practitioner from the things I am taking in.

As a practitioner, Wadds is fairly unique in straddling the, often huge, divide between the academic study of the communication disciplines and the practical delivery of PR and Marketing and his curatorship of MyPRStack reflects that. Whether you are a PR student, an academic or practitioner (and I agree with Wadds that the gulf should not be so vast as it is); whether you work in-house or in an agency; whether you work for a large organisation or are a solo-practitioner there will be something within MyPRStack that is for you. Personally I think it will be a long time before MyPRStack will stop feeling relevant and useful to our industry at large, but don’t just take my word for it, download your free copy today.

Also if you are interested in finding out more about how Wadds is trying to bridge the gap between PR academics and practitioners, check out his community of practice of Facebook.

Because the Drugs (Legislation) Don’t Work

11 Sep

I still sometimes wake in cold sweats. I am there again and it is happening.

Late at night, toally unprovoked, the first attack from behind, knocks me to the floor. A large group, all female, all wasted on alcohol and desperate for destruction. I remember it, all too vividly, I will never forget. They probably were not bad women on the whole, it’s all too easy to demonise our attackers, but they were deeply under the influence of alcohol and they felt invincible. I did not (could not?) fight back. They left their mark…

I’m not the only one, take a look at this picture. These injuries:

All these injuries were caused by people under the heavy influence of alcohol. Let’s put an end to this! Let’s make alcohol illegal. It’s massively addictive, contributes to public disturbances and plagues poorer communities. It’s time that stops…

At this point a large proportion of my readers, I hope, are wondering what’s going on. Logic should have kicked in. I’m deliberately using emotion and shocking images to manipulate your thinking and bring it round to mine. It’s a very simple trick and it is easily combatted with critical reasoning: Although alcoholism is a problem in the UK (and worldwide), on the whole, people have a sensible relationship with alcohol. Alcohol did and does cause the things I described, but you should not legislate based on emotion and isolated incidents. That would be really stupid, right? Prohibition of things that are readily available in society is always ineffectual and destined to fail. Right?

Here’s a picture of Leah Betts:

In 1995, this picture outraged the nation. It prompted a sit-down with my parents to warn me about THOSE Drugs. For many in the anti-drugs lobby in the UK, Leah’s picture is enough to vindicate their point that all drugs are bad and all drug use ends in the death of the user.

A single picture proves nothing. This picture of Leah Betts proves nothing, other than life is perilously fragile and the tragic death of a young girl is A Tragedy. It is worth noting that despite common perceptions that Leah died from taking Ecstasy, in fact her death was caused by drinking too much water, which diluted her bloodstream. But, even if she had died from an Ecstasy tablet, you can’t (and shouldn’t) legislate based on this. We should expect and demand evidence-based practice and pictures of dead girls, while shocking and terribly sad, are no aid to critical reasoning. It’s a very simple trick. It’s okay to talk about it, here’s why…

In 2009, the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation calculated/estimated/made-up, the cost of UK enforcement of drugs legislation to £16 Billion. We are paying for that. You, Me and Everyone else in the UK, we’re all paying for that. Part of paying for something is you get to have a voice in how that money is spent.  I can think of a lot better uses for that money and we need more than shock tactics and propaganda if we are to have a sensible, adult discussion on legislation that costs our country vast sums of money to enforce every year.

I’m not going to labour the point on why the, so-called, War on Drugs is dumb, there are far more interesting and educated folk who’ve done that better than I ever could (see further reading), but to summarise:

  • Most of the problems with illegal drugs stem from their illegality not individual substances;
  • In about 60 years of activity, the anti-drugs lobby and enforcement activity worldwide has summarily failed to reduce the number of users and the availability of drugs in society;
  • While Alcohol and Nicotine remain legal, any moral argument based on overall public harm is at best mis-guided and, at worst, deceiptful and morally bereft;
  • Drugs legislation often criminalises those who otherwise lead totally moral and law-abiding lifestyles; and
  • At a time of economic decline the War on Drugs is costing us all a small fortune and achieving nothing.

…But I’m more concerned about one of the by-products of this mis-guided War. Unless we learn from history, it repeats, cliched and entirely true; prohibition does not work. There is always a response.

Over the last few years there has been an alarming rise in the variety and widespread availability of totally legal ‘Research Chemicals’, often known as Legal Highs. These highs come in a variety of shapes and sizes: pills, powders, smokes; all attractively packaged and branded with names such as Herbal Haze (smoke), black mamba (smoke), Columbiana (powder) all totally unregulated available on the UK highstreet and over the internet. What is more, I am reliably informed, many of these Research Chemicals are as strong and, in many cases, stronger than illegal alternatives. Let me say again: no one is regulating this absolutely vast industry that must be worth millions every year.

I am also reliably informed that there are massive inconsistancies between products, even those branded the same way, and I have heard from numerous friends that this has lead them to have quite negative, unpleasant and frightening experiences using such substances. One friend reported smoking a substance, branded as anhilation, which produced a near psychosis, short term loss of some muscle control and days of detachment afterwards. I have a genuine concern that it is a matter of time before people start dying as a result of these substances. But…

Further prohibition is not the answer. It can’t be. Prohibition is the root cause at the heart of the market for research chemicals. Prohibition is no longer an adequate response to the problem. If the government bans one batch of chemicals, within a matter of days a new batch will appear and there is no forseeable end to that. The war on drugs has ultimately created the problem that it was designed to tackle.

We need a serious discussion about drugs legislation in the UK (and worldwide), we need evidence-based legislative practice, logic and less fear. It’s another cliche, but sometimes it’s better the devil you know and we have had many decades to scientifically study substances like cocaine Sulphate, THC and MDMA, so we know their effects on the human body. This is important: we know, quite accurately, their relative levels of harm to society. We know precious little, often nothing at all, about these research chemicals. The clue is in the name.

I believe, that we need to spend more money on dealing with the problems of addiction and stop spending any money on fighting a war that was lost sometime around 1960. Alternatively, we can continue with the cycles of restriction, control and prohibition towards emerging substances; we can continue pushing users towards newer and increasingly dangerous substances, the long term effects of which we can only begin to guess at. If we do this and maintain the status quo, it is my belief that people will start dying. As a society, it’s not too late, we can prevent that happening.

We live in an age requiring that we step out from beneath the fear around drugs thrust on us all by the national media and recognise that legalisation, for a huge swathe of reasons, is the right, the moral and the only option for addressing this hugely important social issue.

Please Note

Writing a post in favour of the decriminalisation of drugs is not the same as advocating the use of drugs. Please bear that in mind, I really don’t care either way whether you do or don’t use drugs (past/present/future). If you are going to read this and suggest that I am advocating drug use, then you’re an idiot.

Also, if you’re going to tell me about your brother/auntie/uncle/cousin who got addicted to Heroin/Cocaine/Crystal Meth and try and use that as the basis for a counter-argument, you will have already failed. So, let me save you the time.

And finally, Something to think about

There are many interesting books (and many not-so) on the history of drugs. Amongst my favourites is The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge by Cultural Anthropologist Jeremy Narby. Narby makes the controversial suggestion that human intelligence and language, The very building blocks of the first human societies, arose from the ritual use of hallucinogenic plants and roots. He makes a fascinating case and it is well worth a read.

Few people have ever summed up the war on drugs better than the genius that is Bill Hicks:

Further Reading

Transform Drugs Policy Foundation: Alternative world Drugs Report

Professor David Nutt – Evidence not Exaggeration Blog

Moron Watch: Category – War on Drugs

Esquire: Legalize Everything

Huffington Post: To win the War on Drugs follow the states

So, you know the drill, if you don’t like these thought, stick around, I have plenty of others.

The Prince is Naked. Please don’t look.

22 Aug

Hands up who wants to see Prince Harry’s cock?

Just joking.

It’s not that kind of blog. But…

I bet a lot of you would quite like to see those naked pictures of Prince Harry and the lovely, lovely girls. It will not matter whether the UK media decide to honour the Royal Family’s request to not publish the pictures, many of you will see those pictures anyway. This fact is largely the fault of the Royal’s themselves, as the brilliant Robin Bogg put it:

https://twitter.com/robinbogg/status/238309391806369792

I woke up this morning not really thinking about Prince Harry’s knob and here I am 10pm writing a blog about it. Well done the Royals on missing the point and calling upon the Lawyers before you call on the Public Relations People. So…

Should the UK media honour the Royal Families wishes not to publish the pictures? No, they should not.

On another note

I like Prince Harry. I liked him before, I like him more now. He”s human, he’s flawed and, best still, he’s really shit at hiding it.

If we have to have a monarchy, let’s at least allow it to contain humans who come equipped with foibles, vices and demons; it beats the regimented tradition and stuffiness that seems to typify the vast majority of the Royals. Good on you Harry, you’ll drag the Monarchy kicking and screaming into the 21st century one picture of your cock and one spliff at a time.

To all the people moaning about the money being spent being Tax Payers…Really? The vast sums of money that the Royals piss away on a plethora of entirely useless and unnecessary junk, houses, boats and God knows what else; I’m kinda glad at least a little bit of that money is being used so that Prince Harry can have his end away in Las Vegas.

Anyway, lots of great Tweets on this topic today, here are some of my favourites:

https://twitter.com/fleetstreetfox/status/238323315733823488

https://twitter.com/fleetstreetfox/status/238333201565769728

https://twitter.com/karlminns/status/238259158753898497

https://twitter.com/NicDaviesUley/status/238388399298469888

https://twitter.com/richquick/status/238774839966572544

https://twitter.com/psyphour/status/238748273886769153

In short: Bad PR for the Royals and Good PR for the Royals or at least Harry, who is basically doing what most of us would do if we were him. 

That Friday Follow Thing: Social Care

25 May

For those not familiar Friday Follow (#ff) is a Twitter convention whereby on a Friday you recommend people to follow. This is considered, a fantastic way to make new connections via a trusted recommendation or one giant internet circle jerk where bored idiots stroke their egos, depending on your side of the argument.

Me?

I do it occasionally and it does end up taking a considerable amount of time up but, by the same account, I do follow a lot of people who I learn from on a daily basis. My preference is that if you’re going to do it then rather than just tweeting #ff and a list long list of names,  tweet a single username and the reason that you are recommending them, have to say I have personally founded quite a few new people to follow by such recommendations. Anyway enough of my personal Twitter etiquette, I will be doing posts like this from time-to-time on a Friday instead of doing it on Twitter, I’ll be doing the recommendations based on themes and today’s theme is Social Care. Even though our current Government seem to have forgotten about Social Care with the latest delay to the long awaiting and much needed White Paper, time and change wait for no one. Twitter is an exciting place to be for Social Care content at the moment, lots of connections are starting to form, debates are being had about the big issues affecting the practice and management of Social Care from people working in Local Authorities, Charities and from private sector providers of care. Without exception, all the social care Tweeters that I have met have been linked by desire to engage and that’s exciting for me, people are starting to share ideas and best practice in an open environment like Twitter and that can only be good for both the profession as a whole and to the public perception of it.

Call to Arms: Do You work in Health or Social Care?

We need you. We may need you to lead us, if you’re willing and your vision is strong enough, but we certainly need you. You might have the idea that makes it all work, we might have some ideas that work for you. I really want to see a lot more Social Care and Health tweeters and bloggers over the coming years, there’s a reason for this. Eddie Izzard does a sketch about bee-keepers:

You guys working front line Health and Social Care, you’re the bee keepers. I’ve met very few people working in Health and Social Care who told me they were ‘just doing a job’ or ‘just doing it for the money’ the thing that I have noticed is they share a genuine passion for helping people by offering the best services that they are able and that, in itself, is no easy task. So come on guys, let’s see you on Twitter, let’s hear your thoughts. We do not have to wait for a Government that has seemingly forgotten about us, we’re here, we’re talking; there is not a single movement in the history of civilisation that hasn’t started this way. Anyway, if you want to find the most interesting content on Twitter on UK Social Care here are the people I recommend you follow.

This list is by no means exhaustive, I have chosen the people I regard as the best curators of content, through these people you will find a lot more people to follow and engage with.

Shirley Ayres (@Shirley Ayres) – Shirley is a true leader and a bit of a heretic at times and quite right too, heretics have more fun! Shirley is responsible for well over half of the interesting content I read on Twitter around Social Care and Health, her skill at curating content and asking the right and difficult questions is legendary. I follow Shirley closely, she is always engaged in fascinating discussions on a variety of topics and I learn a lot. You should read her superb blog on Connecting Social Care and Social Media.

I have a list of people I intend to go out of my way to meet and learn from, Shirley is on there, we keep missing each other, but we’ll get there soon.

Ermintrude2 – Anonymous Blogger Ermintrude2 is another superb creator and curator of thought provoking content around Social Care. She is someone I would hold up as a superb ambassador for the profession, always sharing best practice and experience and always eager to engage in important discussions. Ermintrude is the antidote to the often skewed picture of  Social Care that is in the media, we need more people like her! She is involved in The Not So Big Society Blog, which I highly recommend.

GndSocialCare – Sometimes working in Social Care you’d be forgiven for thinking the national media an enemy. Unfortunately bad news sells more papers than good news, so a lot of the stories that end up running about Social Care are about the times it goes wrong or we get it wrong. The Guardian are on a wonderful mission to present a bit more balanced perspective on Social Care issues and their content just gets better and better. Check out the Guardian Social Care Network.

Claudia Megele – Her Twitter Profile States: There is little I’m not curious about & even less I’m not interested in… and that about sums up the content she creates and curates, always fascinating. Claudia is a Senior Lecturer, MSc Module Leader, Author and Researcher.

LearningSHaCK – This account is close to my heart as run  by friends and colleagues in the Learning and Development Service at Warwickshire, I helped them to get started on Twitter and am pleased to say they have become fantastic curators and creators of content.

And last, but no means least, a recent one, but immediately brilliant:

WhoCaresWalsall – Provides information about care services in Walsall and began with the live-tweeting of the morning in the life of Sheila who cares for her husband Ron who has Vascular Dementia. You can read the full story and you should, it was a superb piece of storytelling in real time and perfectly highlighted a lot of the issues of caring for someone who has dementia and also someone living with dementia. On every level I am in awe and certainly one to watch; there don’t have to be flashy unicorns, it just needs to be real and this is. Check out the blog and huge Kudos to Tina and Becky from Walsall Council for Tweeting such a powerful story. Also credit to Dan Slee for being awesome.

Are you working in Local Government Communication?

You need to be following Comms2Point0 and check out their awesome blog .

Social Care in Warwickshire

Social Care and Health

Adult Social Care

Children’s Social Care

Warwickshire Resource Directory

Recognise and Report Abuse

Does your life suck? Why not kick a duck to death? or: Why Balloon Releases are Dumb.

20 Feb

I have written and rewritten this post more times than I could count. I have compromised and compromised to avoid offence, until I realised I had become as guilty of this as the people this post criticises. I’m tired of compromise, so this is the first version that I wrote, I am unapologetic for this fact…

Okay, let’s play a game.

Let’s imagine every member of your family are inextricably struck down tomorrow. Would any of those loved ones have appreciated you honouring their memory by tipping a barrel of crude oil into the ocean? If so then each time one dies you should do exactly that, may as well, right? Of course none of us would do that, because it’s HARMFUL and DAMAGING to the ENVIRONMENT. I recently had to explain to a grown adult why the environment is important for our lives (People are hopelessly miopic, all hope is lost, we’re going to die here).

You with me so far? We’re agreed that we shouldn’t tip barrels of oil into the sea because it’s harmful and damaging to our environment and we need our environment to live? If you accept this argument, then you already know why releasing balloons is a terrible idea.

To be clear

If…..

Punching badgers = Dumb

Tipping oil in sea = Dumb

Then…

Balloon releases = Dumb

This is a post about Balloon releases and a man with the greatest beard that has ever been grown by man.

I’d followed Andy Mabbett for some time and got to know his work quite well, in encounters with him he was always friendly and courteous, so I was somewhat surprised to log on to Twitter before christmas and find him getting huge amounts of aggressive tweets from people, I was intrigued. It was more intrigueing as some of the abuse was coming from an official charity Twitter account.

Note

I will not name this charity as I promised I wouldn’t (and I don’t want to give them the coverage).

Andy’s crime was suggesting that Balloon Releases were harmful to the environment and that the charity involved should cancel theirs. Andy was Zen-Like in his calm responses to abuse, fighting blind rage with reasoned logic and science. He was always polite even when attempts were made to goad him. This is the evidence that Balloon releases are terrible: Balloons are harmful to wildlife  

Andy was totally right. The abuse he was subjected to was horrific and ludicrous throughout, if you joined the discussion at a late stage you would be forgiven for assuming that Andy was personally responsible not just for the suffering of the people abusing him, but for all the evils of the world. I found it strange that no one one was saying anything in way of support of Andy, infact general consensus seemed to be that the charity was in the right because they had the trump card of grief. Balloon Releases are okay if you’re grieving or raising awareness of some disease. To be fair, many thought Andy was right, but should keep his mouth shut, because people have a right to their grief and to express it in the way they feel best, including releasing balloons, whatever the consequences. People are idiots.

I started trying to talk to some of the people who had been abusing Andy. Following his fine lead of being polite and logical I suggested that perhaps they were looking at the issue in the wrong way. I tried to explain that Andy was not trying to take away their right to grieve, that wasn’t the issue, he was simply asking them not to do something to express their grief and remember their loved ones that was so damaging to the environment as a whole. It didn’t take long before I was being accused of all kinds of weird and wonderful things…at one point someone suggested that when I had children they hoped one died so I would feel their pain *Face Palm* I got quite a few DMs of support from people on Twitter but, again, no one was too keen to speak openly in support; my attackers were grieving after all. This made me realise some things…

Balloon Releases are Dumb

Just as pouring oil into the ocean is dumb; releasing balloons, whatever the reason, is harmful and destructive to the environment and therefore should be banned. If you are aware of the reasons why balloons are harmful to wildlife, but still proceed with organising one, you’re a selfish idiot and the same goes for venues that allow releases to take place, you can stop them. We can stop them.

Releasing a balloon will not help your grief! Once that balloon has floated off to get lodged in the throat of a cormorant, your grief will still be there, it will still hurt just as much as it did and you will still feel empty. Releasing a balloon will also not bring about a cure for any of the currently incurable diseases known to medical science, research into the disease may indeed yield a cure, but that cure is unlikely to resemble a Puffin choking to death on rubber.

Sometimes challenging wrongs makes you unpopular

The world needs people like Andy Mabbett, The rest of us will most likely not challenge things, even if we feel strongly about them, when there is a risk we may cause offence to others but, sometimes, causing offence is unavoidable and essential if you want to create positive change. He doesn’t go out of his way to upset people, but he doesn’t keep his mouth shut to avoid it either, especially when it is something he believes in. I respect this and I’d rather be counted along with Andy and be potentially seen as unpopular or argumentative, than keep my mouth shut just to keep the peace.

Volunteer Surgeons

It’s unlikely you would want a volunteer surgeon, without any background in biomedical science, to operate on you, but a lot of the Charity’s that I have seen Andy go up against have their Public Relations activity managed by volunteers without the relevant skill set for the role. The majority of the unpleasantness that I have witnessed comes from a fundamental lack of understanding on how best to deal with a vocal activist opposed to your organisations planned activity. It does not naturally follow that having an knowledge of the subject involved makes you the best person to handle the PR side of things. If Your spokesperson is basically leading a cyber-lynch mob of grieving people in attacking people politely suggesting alternatives to your planned activity, it might be time to find another spokesperson.

Further Reading

Follow Andy Mabbett on Twitter

Find out about Andy’s ‘Big Society’ Award

Virtual Ranger’s Blog: Bereaved Parents hope environmentalist chokes to death

Paul Clarke – A time and a place for everything

…Now if you’ll all excuse me, I am off punch a penguin in the spleen. That’s okay, right? I’m grieving after all.

CIPR Strike an important blow in the battle for UK PR industry credibility and trust.

20 Jan

The Brilliant Andy Barr (@10yetis) once told me about a great saying: I couldn’t tell my mum I worked in PR so I told her I played piano in a brothel!

My last post was about the Dark Origins of PR, how that still continues to shape public opinion of the industry and why I felt it was important that we, as practitioners, have a vested interest in changing these perceptions. With this in mind I was pleased to hear the news from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) this morning that they have taken the rare decision to expel a member of our professional body for misconduct.
The person in question is Northern Ireland practitioner, Jennifer Maguire, MD of Consultancy, Core Communications who:

‘is on public record as having fabricated evidence, lied and acted vindictively, aggressively and unreasonably at two employment tribunals in 2008 and 2009.’  – Read more in the CIPR Press Release.

I totally support the CIPR decision to take this action and think it’s important for our industry that they do. It is decisive action that demonstrates clearly that the Code of Conduct that all members of the CIPR sign up to when they join has teeth and is more than just lip-service to the concept of professional ethics for our industry. More than this, it demonstrates clearly to members and the general public that the leading body for UK PR practitioners IS committed to getting its house in order when it comes to ethics and professional standards. It’s important to note that CIPR did not respond to an external complaint on this case, they brought the action themselves against this member. This can only be good for the way people perceive our industry.

I do also think that there is more than a slight element of foresight here in relation to the bigger picture in the UK. 2011 was the year of phone-hacking and expose-after-expose into the so-called ‘Dark Arts’ of the Journalism, but it goes further than just Journalism. It would be naïve to suggest that Public Relations is totally free of practices that are perhaps ethically ambiguous (or just plain wrong) and short-sighted in the extreme to assume we won’t receive the same level of public scrutiny this year that Journalism received last year. I think CIPR are pre-empting this scrutiny by acting, not because a select committee tells them they must, but because action is the only and right course to take.

Today, I’m reminded of why my CIPR membership matters to me and why CIPR matter to the UK PR industry.

CIPR Members, today may be a good day to refresh ourselves on the expectations of us in our professional Code of Conduct.

Public Relations: Dark Beginnings

9 Jan

The best, or at least most amusing, piece of advice I was given about working in the Public Relations industry was:

“If you ever want to gain the upper hand in negotiations with an older practitioner then simply mention the word Propaganda as much as you can.”

It was a jokey quip from a highly respected practitioner but it does hit to the heart of the profession’s greatest hang-up and the main reason that many people hold a dim view of our industry: the entire foundation of the profession is impossible to separate from the idea of Propaganda and, therefore, the dark art of Psychological Operations during times of war. I made this link on Twitter last year and was shocked by the amount of Surprise shown by some of my PR followers and even the odd accusation that I was in some way making it all up. I’m not making it up, here’s the story of the dark beginnings of PR and it all begins with one man: Edward L. Bernays.

Bernay’s was the nephew of Sigmund Frued and became the father of Public Relations (many argue Ivy Lee was the first true practitioner and certainly gave us the art of Crisis Communication) when, inspired by the impact his message of ‘Spreading Democracy to Europe’ had in American when he worked in Woodrow Wilson’s administration during the first world war,  he made the move of combining the idea of  Crowd psychology, Group Dynamics with the psychoanalysis of his Uncle Sigmund to form what he called ‘The engineering of public consent’. It is of note that the only reason those of us in Public Relations are not working in the propaganda industry is that Bernays’ felt the word had been tainted by its association with the German regime during the WW1, which is why he finally settled upon the term Public Relations, although Propaganda did become the title of his seminal work in 1928. Even from it’s beginnings, Bernays’ approach to shaping the Public Relations industry was not exactly high on the morality scales. Here are two things he quite openly stated and that were at the heart of his beliefs:

“If we understand the mechanisms and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it.” – Propaganda (Page 71)

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. 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.” – Propaganda (Page 37)

But Bernays’ did not just stop at sayine morally and ethically questionable things, he was also a man of action:

  • In the 1920s, he worked for American Tobacco where he was instrumental in persuading a generation of women that smoking in public was no longer a taboo by sending a group of débutantes to take part in the New York City parade where they were pictured puffing on their ‘torches of freedom’. This was picked up by the New York Times (1 April 1929) who ran the headline: ‘Group of Girls Puff at Cigarettes as a Gesture of Freedom’. Sticking with smoking, in the 1930s he convinced many women that the forest green Lucky Strike Packs were the height of fashion.
  • Also in the 30s, he went a long way to convince consumers that disposable cups were more sanitary than over types of cup, arguably contributing to the disposable society that still endures today.
  • His influence was felt outside of the States and his most audacious campaign was probably to facilitate the overthrow of the government of Guatamala at the behest of The United Fruit Company and the US Government (Operation PBSUCCESS). In doing so, he gave the world the term ‘Banana Republic’ which was used in relation to the companies overthrow of Guatamala and other corrupt South American States.

The legacy of Bernays isn’t all negativity though, he was clearly a man with the capacity for conscience! He expressed his shock and sorrow that his book Crystallising Public Opinion featured in Joseph Goebbels’ library of Propaganda and was being used as a primary text in the justifying  the extermination of the Jewish People during World War Two. He also seems to have changed his position on smoking and throughout the 60s, after his retirement, he worked with anti-smoking group ASH to raise awareness of it’s dangers. He saw himself as always in adherence with democratic process suggesting that a public relations counsel ‘must never accept a retainer or assume a position which puts his duty to the groups he represents above his duty to society.’ Considering some of his actions and beliefs, that are well documented, it’s not clear that he paid much more than lip-service to this ideal.

What he gave PR

We have Bernays’ to thank for the practice of the press release (although Ivy Lee pipped him to the post slightly in 1906 with the first documented release) and also third party product endorsement, whereby products are given credibility by a seemingly neutral, but well known authority or celebrity; both practices endure within the profession today. He also set the scene for the melting pot of psychology, philosophy and sociology that still defines PR theory.  As an interesting aside, the practice of PR possibly began hundreds of years before Bernays with the much less well known Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, whose efforts in the 18th century included celebrity endorsements, press relations and lobbying.

Bernays’ most enduring legacy however is his dark shadow; PR academics still wrestle with the separation of the image of profession from the legacy of manipulation and propaganda that Burnays left in his wake, you only have to look at Grunig and Hunts for models of Public Relations to see evidence of this. It’s a futile act, we cannot change the past of our profession, but we can be content that the Public Relations most of us practice bears little resemblance to the work of Edward L Bernays, the grand manipulator and celebrated/loathed braggart.

As for whether I’ve ever used repeat mention of the word Propaganda to gain any sort of upper hand in discussions with older practitioners…that would be manipulative, wouldn’t it?

Further Reading

There’s a lot out there, but here’s some of the sources I’ve enjoyed and learnt from:

  • Crystallising Public Opinion – Edward Bernays
  • Propaganda – Edward Bernays
  • Public Relations – Edward Bernays
  • Biography of an Idea: Memoirs of a Public Relations Counsel  – Edward Bernays
  • Engineering of Consent – Bernays, Cutlip et al
  • The unseen power: public relations, a history – Scot Cutlip
  • Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry – Stauber & Rampton
  • Mass communication and American social thought: key texts, 1919-1968 – John Durham Peters and Peter Simonson
%d bloggers like this: