PR & propaganda ... where do you draw the line?

Author:Bleile, Paul

National security interests combined with strategic dissemination of fact seem to yield a kind of communication highly prone to propaganda.

PR and propaganda: two communication tools, at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Sitting in the movie theatre the other evening watching "Wag the Dog," a satirical movie on a U.S. presidential campaign, listening to the guy behind hissing expletives about PR, and after the show having to defend the profession to my date, I decided it was time to take action. Well, rhetorical action, anyway.

What was supposed to be a relaxing night out was rapidly turning into my first real defensive dissertation about the profession I have recently embarked upon. In a way, I was pleased with myself, feeling full of fact and tact; ready to explain the need for good PR. By evening's end, I had to admit that not all communication was for the right reasons.

Among the basic tenets of the argument I grappled with was that telling the truth is not necessarily the same as the whole truth being absent from the things that you tell. And, as I was forced to concede, the waters do indeed get murky from there on in. Among the de-clarifying agents: cleverly crafted examples of telling untruths, with the most pure intent, to prevent conflict, or making some truths bigger to distract the focus from other, less desirable truths. The movie had provided plenty of examples of PR being about good, as in effective, communication, and not about doing good and communicating it, which is how I like to see it.

Publicity - promotion - puffery - propaganda. Prostitution. Soon the P words were being thrown out on the table, increasingly derogatory in nature. Some sort of scale or method of illustrating the differences was what I needed. That discussion, and the clever responses that I keep thinking of and wishing I had said, have led me to propose a matrix of PR activity; the need for truth.

The ethics question, if thoroughly examined, can be reduced to truth. Sometimes it seems essential to keep some information secret. This, when examined, is understandable, no - necessary. Within industry, an inherent part of what makes business work is the need for industry secrets. We wouldn't expect Bill Gates to distribute technical information about new software under development, because his company wants to take it to the free market. We couldn't ask an energy company where they suspect a huge deposit lies. A fellow prospector wouldn't tell you where she...

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