Posts Tagged 'Federalist Papers'

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.

Is It Public Relations Or Lobbying?

The subject of lobbying vs. public relations and other “communications” activities has come into focus recently, in increasingly important ways. We first noticed this in mid-March with a curious report that GolinHarris—one of the major PR firms—was shutting down its lobbying practice (who knew this PR giant did lobbying?) Then, in several later tweets during March, we followed the ugly lobbying scandal roiling through the United Kingdom’s national government—which has brought numerous investigations, blistering allegations and even threats of government regulation upon the Commonwealth’s PR industry.  And in just the past weeks, reports have surfaced of a Massachusetts bill being drafted that would include public relations practitioners and communications specialists under the definition of “lobbyists.” All of these reports, for us, had a chilling effect.

Why? Because in them public relations is being closely tied to lobbying; and while there may be some parallels in communications objectives, they are distinctly different in terms of standards and modus operandi. Additionally, we think the majority of communications professionals make a clear distinction between public relations and lobbying—even in cases where they may engage in both activities. (A curious mix, in our view, which is bound to result in confusion and blowback, at some level.)

Public Relations is not Lobbying

 It concerns us greatly to see public relations ostensibly recast as lobbying. In public relations, the stock and trade of the business is communicating in a way that generates goodwill and mutual benefit, based upon the merits of a given position or viewpoint. Lobbying, in our view, goes beyond the merits and persuasiveness of the arguments alone; lobbying typically introduces a system of “spoils,” or “rewards” for desired outcomes—often in the form of monetary contributions, gifts, favors, perks, etc., that have some material value or net material gain for the recipient.

For a combined 30 years, both inside and outside of government, we have practiced traditional public relations and what we call “communications advocacy.” In that, we engage in systematic communications to advance a cause or purpose, all the while endorsing the ethical and “good conscience” standards incumbent in a profession whose sheer existence is based on trust. We use every persuasive communication device at our disposal: facts, inferences, emotional storytelling, skilled argumentation, compelling presentation, and, in some cases, negotiation to make our case. In our minds, these are the bare-bones elements of communications. When “spoils” are introduced to the framework of engagement and debate, it becomes something other than public relations. For many, it becomes “lobbying,” and that, in the minds of many people, is an unwelcome, if not unsavory association.

So, in our minds, we’re pretty clear, public relations is not lobbying, and we should guard against any effort to link the two as one in the public’s mind. As we stated in one of our tweets, citizens in a democracy have a constitutional right and a long history of petitioning their government on issues of public policy and public trust. (Think the Federalist Papers) To do so isn’t lobbying, necessarily, but it is public relations. It becomes lobbying when the focus of the debate centers on self-gain, and not mutual interest.


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