Public Relations: Back to the Future? Harold Burson Advocacy Or Propaganda Mills

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two recent events bring the past, present and future of public relations into clear focus. Last week, Harold Burson, a pillar of PR as a co-founder of agency giant Burson-Marsteller and a founder of modern, ethical PR practice, died at age 98. 

Contemporaneously, making news again were the antics of a dubious crop of firms popping up, operating under the equally offensive moniker of “black PR,” specializing in propaganda, manipulation, and mass production of fake news. Remember Bell-Pottinger?

In case you don’t, Buzzfeed offers comprehensive article below that looks at Bell-Pottinger and now a growing number of firms of its ilk; it’s worth a read. For now, suffice to recall Bell-Pottinger is the infamous—now defunct—London-based “PR” firm whose work in South Africa was decried for intentionally stoking racial divisions to benefit a wealthy client. After world-wide condemnation, and the firm’s subsequent demise, unfortunately that wasn’t the end of the story for bad PR on a global scale. Since then, Russia and countries in Asia have come under attack for stoking divisions and generating mass propaganda known as fake news. And many of these firms are marketing themselves under the mantle of “PR.”

These unethical firms know few if any boundaries and are driven only by profit. Their proliferation is a real threat to the kind of ethical public relations advocated by Harold Burson and today’s PR professionals. Therefore, it’s in our interest to make sure people understand the quite fundamental differences that govern these separate industries. We’ve written much about these kinds of differences in our introduction and previous posts about lobbying and PR.

The emergence of this new, high-tech, low-brow form of propaganda should be on the radar of the public and every legitimate public relations practitioner. Buzzfeed’s story below is ahead of trend. Here’s what you need to know now about disinformation for hire:

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/craigsilverman/disinformation-for-hire-black-pr-firms

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