Developing a consistent message

Aug 29, 2007

THE PR industry has yet again taken a media battering following the recent television fakery debacle.

No sooner had phone-in competitions that no one could win given way to the row about the Queen, who did not storm off a photo session in a huff when asked to remove her crown, than there was the on-screen death of Alzheimers sufferer Malcolm Pointon, whose footage turned out to be untrue.

This fakery debacle provided meaty fodder for journalists who dislike and mistrust the PR industry, and believe that we are all out there spinning lies in our quest for media coverage.

John Naughton said in the Observer (August 5): “One of the most important public services that mainstream journalism can provide consists of decoding PR speak, translating its half-truths, unsupported assertions and evasions, into plain English.”

Mathew Parris, in the Times, despairs of any truth and asserts that appearance is the new reality, claiming that marketing language is all about presentation and perception. He states: “What a thing is, is becoming secondary to how a thing seems.”

By contrast, Alistair Campbell argues we are moving towards an era of authenticity. He cites Hilary Clinton and Gordon Brown as examples, yet paradoxically credits Clinton’s improving media skills as evidence of her progress in this direction.

Television is powerful – more powerful, thanks to moving pictures, sound, and its ability to mimic reality, than words on a page of a newspaper. With the public’s trust eroded by fake phone-ins, scenes put together in the wrong order and misleading press releases designed to gain maximum media coverage in advance and therefore higher viewing ratings, there is no room for grey areas on television. Viewers need to know that what they are watching is true.

In defence of the PR industry, the vast majority of practitioners are honest, act with integrity and do not tell lies or manipulate the truth in an attempt to gain media coverage. In the case of a faked TV programme, I believe most publicists would feel uncomfortable in promoting it in the knowledge that it was fake.

This most recent TV debacle has reinforced yet again that we are in an era where public opinion exists more powerfully than ever. Conversely, public opinion is more fragmented and plays into, and is fed by, a media which is also fragmented and reaching a wider and diverse population. Furthermore, the public’s growing interactivity with the media is influencing media stories more and more.

The PR function is now even more crucial. PR specialises in understanding and influencing public opinion and helps organisations build better relationships with their publics. This does not mean PR is promoting “half-truths” and creating an unreal world.
PR is trying to get organisations to develop consistent messages and communicate with all its publics in an increasingly interactive environment.

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