Posts Tagged 'astroturfing'

PR Or Lobbying? Astroturfing by Another Name

So, we’re back briefly on one of our favorite topics–public relations vs. lobbying. This time, Public Relations (PR) Concept.
U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren weighs in on astroturfing, or lobbying under the guise of public relations, via the New York Times video.
“This Is Thinly Disguised Lobbying,” she says. Check it out here: http://nyti.ms/2aGaAYo

When PR Pros Are Required to Register As Lobbyists: A Case Study

business interactions

From Ireland, here’s a case study that shows what happens when PR people aren’t vigilant against legislation that equates public relations activities with lobbying. In sum, PR pros register, others don’t.

Calls to ‘name and shame’ non-compliant lobbyists

PR industry believes legal and other professions have not reported lobbying activities

Legal firms engaged in lobbying activity are not thought to be complying with the legislation to the same extent as public relations professionals.

Organisations that do not comply with lobbying legislation introduced last September should be “named and shamed”, the Public Relations Institute of Ireland (PRII) has suggested. Read the full story from Irish Times here: http://www.irishtimes.com/business/media-and-marketing/calls-to-name-and-shame-non-compliant-lobbyists-1.2653590

It’s Public Relations, Not Lobbying!

Despite arguments to the contrary, New York State’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics has ruled to expand the definition of lobbying to include PR professionals–a prospect we called chilling, and now actually alarming.

To help make our case against this ruling, we call forth this missive from the nation’s “community organizer in chief.”

“To my mind, there’s a difference between a corporate lobby whose clout is based on money alone, and a group of like-minded individuals–whether they be textile workers, gun aficionados, veterans or family farmers–coming together to promote their interests; between those who use their economic power to magnify their political influence far beyond what their numbers might justify and those who are simply seeking to pool their votes to sway their representatives. The former subvert the very idea of democracy. The latter are its essence.”

-Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope

Barack Obama campaigning on street

Public Relations vs. Lobbying-Part II

business interactions

By far, one of our most popular posts was on the topic of Public Relations and Lobbying, published back in 2012. Since that time the post has been continuously circulating. With proposals potentially impacting public relations now being reviewed in the legislatures of several states, the circumstances call for a timely update.

The most well-known of those bills now being considered is in New York, which follows the pattern of similarly controversial proposals in Massachusetts and Los Angeles. These bills range from proposals requiring public relations professionals to register as lobbyists to those that would restrict lobbying efforts by nonprofits. As we said before, such proposals would seem to us to have a chilling effect on the public relations profession, but to also raise the alarming spectre of infringements on free speech and social justice.

The blurring line between public relations and numerous other disciplines, including lobbying, calls for PR people to be alert and vigilant on understanding the differences between these professions.

As we said in our previous posts, citizens have a long history of organizing and petitioning our government for redress and for actions on behalf of the common good. We liken such grassroots movements to the Federalist Papers, which helped establish the basis of governing in our democratic society. And yes, while we are aware and watchful of many disguised special interests who have, and continue to hijack or simulate grassroots movements to achieve self-serving ends—a disingenuous practice known as astroturfing—we, nonetheless, think the right of citizens to organize and to use legitimate public relations practice to raise awareness and advance their causes is a protected right. Such is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It is the tenets of the profession—not occasional overlapping methods—that we believe favorably distinguishes public relations from similar activities and pursuits.

Public relations

does not seek

negative

outcomes.

In more than 30 years of public relations practice, our mantra has always been: Public relations does not seek negative outcomes. In other words, PR doesn’t seek to tear down something else; we use it to constructively demonstrate the positive attributes or reasonings behind our cause—in other words, building something up: an idea, a cause, a product, a service, a solution, etc. And we do so with persuasion as our principal tool. It’s the honest value, true belief in and understanding of the benefits of our client’s position that fuels our work.

So, despite a popular belief, especially during this political season, that “going negative” in method, outreach or advertising works, we firmly believe that going negative in outcome, approach, message, methodology, etc., will never achieve big-picture goals and the objectives needed to anchor public relations. On those rare occasions when we make comparisons, the differentiations are based on real differences, and not on the cynical notion of winning by making the other side lose.

Watchwords for PR: Be Brave

Courage-CS-Lewis
Over the course of a PR career, you’ll have many opportunities to stand up–or stand down, as it were–as a professional. The choices you make will define your life and your career. Looking back, our enduring words of advice for PR folk is “Be brave.”

We sat down to reflect on different experiences we’ve had along our public relations paths that may be fairly comparable to what any pro may face over the course of a lengthy career. We share a few of them here, not specifically as a how-to guide, but with the hope you’ll view them as “opportunities” to learn to be brave and handle some adversities you may encounter as a PR pro. Ultimately, isn’t this is our raison d’etre within an organization?

Internal Conflict/Office Politics

This simple adversity, may be one of the hardest. Why? Because, at worst, it can be toxic and demoralizing to a vibrant and productive organizational culture. One of our colleagues here once worked in a supervisory position where one of her reports had set her sights on our colleague’s position as a supervisor. It was a messy situation, characterized by dishonesty, subversion of work and intentions, and lack of accountability on the part of the report. How to deal with it? Protect your flank: 1) document instructions, expectations, and policy/processes; 2) challenge threats, attacks and subversions directly, using accumulated documentation. Don’t be afraid to have difficult conversations. Be prudent, be thoughtful, never speak in anger. Take a walk, if needed, before or after hard conversations. But don’t hesitate to cast down negative aspersions. Also, if you have the authority, don’t be afraid to realign responsibilities to ensure more accountability. If you don’t have the authority, make sure you create an open line of communication with someone who does.

External Disinformation Campaigns

As PR people, we’re always looking to build greater awareness of and loyalty to our product, service, cause or organization. Occasionally in a career, you may run across an intentional effort by others outside your organization to damage your brand, reputation or cause. You’d be wise not to ignore it, but be prudent in your response. Don’t overreact: match the resources expended to the degree of threat. On a few occasions while doing grassroots coalition building and field work for public policy or civic causes, a couple of us have encountered these intentional efforts to mislead. Frequently, these astroturfing efforts–as they are known–are disguised as another grassroots effort, but most often they’re backed by special interests with a particular business stake in a public policy issue. It’s during these occasions that we’ve found your networks, partnerships and collaborations to be invaluable. Creating feedback loops among these partners can be an effective early warning system to dangers in the environment; moreover, their ability to quickly reach their respective constituencies via owned, social or other media can be crucial.

A Life-Threatening Situation or Life-and-Death Crisis

This involves situations, although not on a mass scale, where people have been (or can be) hurt or injured, sometimes fatally. While we hope no one has to deal with this kind of crisis, given the times we live in, the possibility always exists. With that in mind, here are some of the situations we’ve experienced and what we’ve learned.

Tragically, on more than once occasion, a couple of us have been involved in communications related to loss of life. The circumstances vary quite a bit. In one situation, an employee was found dead (presumably killed) while performing his job responsibilities. We know of another where a client was accidentally drowned while swimming in a pool. In yet another, a client was hurt in an attack by another on-site visitor. In situations such as this, what you can say will be limited, initially, due to unfolding circumstances, police or other law enforcement investigations, and sensibilities to family, friends, fellow employees, even legal considerations. Recognize that at some point—preferably sooner rather than later—you’ll have to say something. You’ll have to explain, give account, reassure. You’ll need to balance fact, with empathy, compassion, and noting appropriate safeguards. Choose words carefully, demeanor cautiously, and perhaps most importantly, the company should speak with a human voice.

Again, our purpose isn’t to claim expertise in dealing with crises; PR crises are all different, but we have been through a few. We also aren’t looking to provide a how-to guide for coping with or managing a crisis. That’s well beyond the scope of what we’d do in this post. Yet, one continuity running through all of these situations is the requirement to be brave. That, in turn, means being level-headed, informed and in control of emotions, which will help in taking control of events. Our mission here has been to describe a few of the most difficult PR situations you might encounter, which demand knowledge, grace and empathy. Most of all, they require the PR professional to summon up the courage to respond insightfully in these situations.

Be sure to let us know below what you think, and difficult PR experiences you’re aware of.


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