Thursday, 28 January 2010


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Before you read this blog, I would like to tell you that this is an extension of my first blog on defining PR and Propaganda. I know that you must be wondering why, well, I have just finished reading one of the chapters (From PR to Propaganda) of PR a Persuasive Industry? by Trevor Morris and Simon Goldsworthy and to be honest I could not resist from expressing my views on it. So, here it goes…
In terms of content, the following points have been highlighted in the chapter:
  1. PR is persuasive in nature but the industry is reluctant in admitting this fact. Morris and Goldsworthy thinks that the negative connotations attached with the word persuasion is the reason behind it.
I think PR has always been striving hard to establish its own identity in the communication mix. Some people might perceive ‘persuasion’ in the context of marketing, for example, persuading customers to buy a product. Therefore, practitioners want to make this distinction clear between marketing and public relations and this could be another reason for not using the term ‘persuasion’.
  1. The authors define public relations as the planned persuasion of people to behave in ways that further its sponsor’s objectives. It works primarily through the use of media relations and other forms of third party endorsement.
Here, I would like to highlight the argument made by the authors regarding media relations being the primary tool for PR. In my opinion, even today, developing and maintaining media relations is the primary function of PR. This can be supported by the survey done by PR Week where 51% respondents replied that they see ‘Proactive media relations’ as their agencies main contribution.
  1. The authors answer the question I asked in my first blog i.e. is PR another expression of Propaganda? According to them, there are no real moral distinctions between the two: both are essentially amoral, capable of serving any cause. However, they see some practical differences which are as follows:
    1. PR has far fewer levers of influence to pull on.
    2. PR exists in conditions where many competing persuasive messages are communicated.
    3. The public relations practitioner, unlike the propagandist, does not have effective powers of censorship or any lasting control over the media.
In addition to this, in my opinion, the difference can also be highlighted in the scale of propaganda and public relations. Edward Bernays said in his 1928 book Propaganda that propaganda is the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses. Public Relations campaign, on the other hand, can and cannot involve masses. Public Relation practitioners often think about their target audience before planning a campaign. The target audience can be a segment of masses or it can be general, nationwide or worldwide audience.
Reading this chapter was an absolute pleasure. The way both the authors have expressed their opinions is fantastic. If I could describe their writing in three words it would be, CLEAR, PASSIONATE and CRITICAL. Talking about what I learnt from the chapter is the fact that the definitions, theories and concepts of Public Relations written by the most experienced and senior practitioners can be challenged. There is nothing which is absolute in PR and in my opinion; this is the most striking feature of the industry. It is this space and freedom to practice which enables PR practitioners to experiment and implement new ideas and then learn from them. I can say this with a lot of conviction that PR is quite INNOVATIVE.

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Wednesday, 27 January 2010


After discussing the history of propaganda and relevance of the term ‘propaganda’ in the current scenario, this blog particularly focuses on five key elements of propaganda. There are some common tactics which are used by the propagandists to make their propaganda more effective, it can be through the use of imagery or by repeating the same message over and over again. Thus, as a public relations student, I thought it is imperative to learn and educate myself on some of the key elements of propaganda.

1. Control the media: For any propaganda to survive and flourish, media needs to be controlled. This applies specifically in the case of war. For example, during Iraq War 2003 the key tactic was to embed 600 journalists with the troops. Embedded journalists rely heavily on the army for their food, shelter and protection and therefore, this is a good opportunity for the propagandist country to get their message across. Thus, by controlling the flow of information, the desired objectives can be achieved.

2. Emotional appeal: Propaganda generally has a human face. It has an emotional appeal in order to gain public support. For example, Kevin Moloney in his book Rethinking Public Relations mention that Hill & Knowlton was shown to be involved in false stories about Iraqi troops removing 312 babies from incubators in Kuwait in October 1990, just before US involvement in the Gulf War. The motive behind this could have been to show that the enemy is evil and nasty and thus appeal to the hearts and minds of people to gain their support and trust.

3. Keep off certain issues and Imagery: The aim is to divert attention from troublesome issues and reveal only partial facts. As U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917 “The first casualty when war comes is Truth”. Imagery is a very important element of propaganda especially when language can be a barrier. Images and pictures provide a realistic angle to propaganda and the impact of such messages is usually quite strong. For example, 100 cameras were embedded during Iraq War propaganda and military videos were distributed to the media to propagate the message. Apart from this, posters were used to convey a strong and bold message. (Some of the classic examples of such posters are attached with the blog,

4. Simplicity and Repetition: Professor David Welch on the BBC website points out that the Nazi propaganda is a classic example of how to achieve political ends through propaganda. It mentions that the Nazi propaganda for the masses was simple, and had a great appeal to the emotions. To maintain its simplicity, the propaganda put over just a few main points, which were repeated many times.

5. Legitimacy: Anup Shah in his blog War, Propaganda and the Media explains those who promote the negative image of the “enemy” may often reinforce it with rhetoric about the righteousness of themselves; the attempt is to muster up support and nurture the belief that what is to be done is in the positive and beneficial interest of everyone. Moloney (2006) mention that the slogan for the First World War was ‘The war to end all wars’, thus, the aim behind the creation of this slogan could be to generate some hope and justify the inevitability of a war.

Videos: (Source: Youtube)

War Made Easy: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death

Nazi Propaganda

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Tuesday, 26 January 2010


In my first blog, I gave a brief description of what propaganda and PR means and how some of the authors have defined them. This blog focuses on the emergence of Propaganda and PR and goes back in to the history to find out the reason behind the negative perception of propaganda and PR.

Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans (2009) mention that the word propaganda has its origins in the seventeenth century Catholic Church where it meant to ‘propagate the faith’ and it played a major part in recruiting support for the First World War, when the key Committee on Public Information (CPI) was established in the USA. I was quite surprised to learn that propaganda was a neutral term at the start of the twentieth century when theorists such as Bernays (1923), Lippman (1925) and Laswell (1934) saw no problem with trying to organise the responses of mass audiences. So, the question is how and why did the image of propaganda change from neutral to negative?

Tench and Yeomans highlight that propaganda was not seen as a negative concept until after the Second World War, when everyone saw the power of Nazi propaganda, especially their use of film, to promote anti-Semitism and the horrific consequences of that message. It was then that communicators distanced themselves from the concept of propaganda.

All this makes me wonder if Nazi propaganda would not have been successful or it would not have been a part of the history, would it (propaganda) be still relevant in the current scenario? Communication professionals would have been running propaganda agencies instead of PR agencies? Imagine job profiles like Propaganda consultants or Head of Propaganda Department!

In my opinion, this would not have happened. The reason could have been the intellectual progression of our society. Sooner or later the masses would have realised the real intentions behind the messages targeted towards them in the form of propaganda due to the intellectual growth and stimulation and hence, public relations as a profession would have felt a great need to evolve itself. Thus, scholars and practitioners would have thought of giving public relations a new identity which would have portrayed a more holistic and ethical image of the industry. For example, Moloney (2006) in his book Rethinking Public Relations mentions that modern PR messages are subject to greater scrutiny in an increasing pluralism of interests and their propagandistic intentions (where known) meet with greater challenge in the media and in politics from competing interests. As a consequence, a better educated, more media-literate public may be less compliant than their parents' and grandparents' generations.

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Monday, 25 January 2010


I was reading Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans (2009) book ‘Exploring Public Relations’ and one of its chapter’s define and establish the relationship between Public Relations and Propaganda. Many scholars and practitioners have defined them in different ways; this blog tries to analyse such existing definitions.

Jowett and O’Donnell (1992:4) define propaganda as the deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions and direct behaviour to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.

Public Relations has been defined as the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and understanding between an organisation and its publics, according to UK Institute of Public Relations 1987.

Objective: The above definitions highlight that there is a common link which exist between propaganda and PR i.e. to influence perceptions. Therefore, we can say that the purpose of propaganda and PR is to influence public perception in order to generate a desired response. For example, it can either be to buy a company’s product or to have a positive perception about a brand etc. This could be one of the reason as to why public relations has always been seen as propaganda. As Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans in their book Exploring Public Relations introduce the chapter by saying that many journalists assume that PR is largely propaganda.

Expression: Although, the similarity lies in the objective of propaganda and PR, the only distinction lies in the expression of how each of them has been defined. If we look at the definitions, we can clearly derive that public relations seem to define the process of negotiation and adaptation in a much more acceptable and ethical way by including words like goodwill and understanding.

Therefore, the question here is that has PR evolved out of Propaganda and Persuasion? Is it just another expression of the core nature of Propaganda and Persuasion (excluding the negative connotations attached with both) in order to illustrate a more ethical approach to communications?

Well, there seems to be no clear answer to the question. Some practitioners and scholars think they are associated while some think they are different. Kevin Moloney in his book Rethinking Public Relations mention that Sproule (1997, p.18) says that he associated PR with propaganda after the end of First World War. Also, he highlights that Bernays appears to make PR a sub-set of propaganda, which was a larger and positive societal process of manipulation and Tye (1998, pp.264-5) concludes that Bernays refined PR to make it become more effective in creating consent, sometimes for benign purposes, but that he remains ‘a role model for propagandists’.

However, on the other hand, Moloney points out that Jefkins, one of the most popular UK textbook authors gave the reason for distinction between PR and Propaganda. He says that the popular belief that public relations is a form of propaganda nullifies its purpose and destroys its credibility (Traverse-Healy 1988, p.10). Grunig has offered a developmental model for transformation towards a propaganda-free PR.

Videos: (Source: Youtube)


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Global PR: does the PR paradigm work across cultures?

We had an interesting debate in the class on the issue, “Good PR is always context and culture specific. The idea of a global PR is anathema”. Both the teams had some strong points to stand for the motion and against the motion. The team for the motion basically emphasised the point that in order to develop effective communications plan, public relations practitioners need to identify and understand the local context and culture. The team against the motion highlighted that with so many consultancies becoming international, global public relations is the future. It is not easy to give one answer to the question, as our course leader, Pam Williams, said, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. The debate, however, provided a lot of food for thought for everybody in the class. So, I decided to do some research on the issue and this blog highlight my learning and findings.

Difference between global and international public relations

Are terms IPR and global PR synonymous or mean different things? In academic literature, both these terms have been used interchangeably but Tench and Yeomans refers global PR to the internalisation of the profession, which is being practised in more and more countries throughout the globe, while IPR refers to the planning and implementation of programmes and campaigns carried out abroad, involving two or more countries. In my opinion, this distinction by Szondi (2006) is valid because if we go by the dictionary meaning of international, it means between or among nations, whereas the term, global means, around the globe or involving the entire earth. So, global in terms of its literary meaning sounds more holistic and comprehensive. If this is the basic distinction then I think one can argue if international public relations is a part of global public relations?

Who drives global public relations?

Global public relations is driven by many factors like political, social, economic and technological etc. As Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans mention in their book Exploring Public Relations, many non-governmental organisations, such as, Greenpeace, Red Cross, Save the Children or Amnesty International, cannot be associated with a particular country and they communicate with a variety of peoples and countries all over the globe. Not only multinational organisations but also countries and their governments frequently engage in international public relations to create a positive reputation of the particular country abroad or a receptive environment for achieving foreign or economic policy goals. I think technology has played a pivotal role in driving global public relations. The phrase, ‘the world is a global village’ by Marshall McLuhan very much holds existence in today’s world. The development of tools like internet and social media has provided public relations practitioners with the medium to reach audience across geographical borders.

Does international public relations exist at all?

The PR industry seems to be divided on the issue. Some practitioners think that there is no such thing as international public relations while others think that international public relations is the most rapidly growing segment of the profession. I personally think international public relations does exist and is growing at a significant rate. Alison Theaker in the Public Relations Handbook mentions that Wakefield (2001) reports that there are now 40,000 multinational entities, financial markets are converging and new technologies are facilitating communication. Most of the leading public relations consultancies like Weber Shandwick, Fleishman-Hillard, Edelman, Porter Novelli, and Lewis PR etc. are global public relations firms and practice international public relations. These international PR agencies have their networks in many different countries. They have local offices and hire local PR practitioners which give them more credibility. Thus, these multinational organisations adapt to the culture of the host country. According to Tench and Yeomans, public relations industry has been slow to adapt itself with the theories and models of their practices in the international context.

Are PR theories and concepts universally applicable?

Most of the theories and concepts in PR developed in USA and the UK, therefore, practitioners and scholars have been interested to find out if these theories and concepts are universally applicable. For example, Grunig’s two-way symmetrical model, one can argue if that is applicable universally. I think in a democratic country like India, it might be applicable but its application might be restricted in communist countries like China.

Culture and global PR

As societies become increasingly diverse, public relations practitioners face a greater challenge to speak to the needs of each market. I think in order to reach their target audience effectively, global public relations practitioners need to have a good understanding of local cultures. The Public Relations handbook mentions that Homogenous cultures are rare. Jandt (2004) states that 95 percent of the world’s countries are ethnically heterogeneous. This has a direct impact on public relations practitioners since the culture background of targeted publics can change which media channels practitioners should use.

What is culture?

Sriramesh and Vercic (2003:8) quote Tylor (1871), who defined culture as ‘that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom, any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society’. On the other hand, Hofstede defined culture as ‘collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.’

Can PR work across cultures?

I think PR can definitely work across cultures if consultancies ‘Think Global and Act Local’. In fact, in today’s information age, PR practitioners have no choice but to adapt themselves according to globalisation of PR. They need to be open and flexible in their approach in order to develop effective international PR strategies. There have been numerous examples where global public relations campaigns have been successful. For example, the best job in the world campaign. Tourism Queensland claims that the campaign generated more than $80m (£49m) of equivalent media advertising space (source: The Guardian). On the other hand there are some examples which didn’t work internationally like British Airways when it went global in 1996. In June 1997 the airline unveiled a new £60m corporate identity and £1m global advertising campaign with the slogan: ‘The world is closer than you think’. The new identity was based on 50 world images commissioned from ethnic artists around the world. BA’s plan to fly world images instead of the Union flag backfired. Eventually, the airline had to retreat and repaint its planes in 2001, bringing back the Union flag. Thus, public relations can work across cultures but PR practitioners need to keep in mind various factors before implementing international communication plans.

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References: Ralph Tench and Liz Yeomans, Exploring Public Relations, Chapter: International context of public relations
Alison Theaker, The Public Relations Handbook, Chapter: Coping with culture