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.

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