Of Propaganda, Communication and Strategy

One profession that has long suffered much misconception,misinterpretation,
misrepresentation, misinformation, misconstruction, misunderstanding and maligning in our society is public relations. In the twilight of the noble profession,it was given birth to as a child of crisis. However, it is a profession
imbued with planning and proactive management of individuals as brands,
organisations or products. And decades of practice has laid credence
to its being a reputable profession. Public Relations is not a
profession of "paid liars" or "hired slanderers" who will "poison
public opinion".

A profession of research and fact finding, public relations thrives on
truth and full information. It does not mislead its publics even in
times of crisis, reputation management or damage control. It is a
profession that constantly sounds the horn that preventing a crisis is
better than managing one. So, in public relations, professionals see
ahead evolving crisis and preclude them through effective communication process. PR professionals tell implications of management actions and events on their publics. They write proposals to counsel their organisations based on their research on trends and environmental scanning. But the difference in results lie between listening and acting on the proposed action(s) by the public relations wo(man).

Experience has shown that in many institutions, when PR practitioners
present proposals on their findings and recommendations for management approval, such are oftentimes treated with disdain. The reason for this is not far to seek: many top management officials erroneously
consider public relations people as money spenders, forgetting the
huge implications of such proposals to the organisation as well as its
publics. Consequent upon this, corporate professionals are consulted
as a last resort.

Pathetically, they are often consulted when things go awry or at
crisis situation. PR professionals are not crisis managers per se. Rather,
they are proactive management professionals who see and foresee ahead trends, actions, events or policies that may have positive or negative impacts
on the publics. By their training, they have the understanding that it
is more honourable and less expensive to be a pro-active manager than
to be a reactive or crisis manager. The practice of public relations deeply emphasises being on top of situations at all times, rather than being defensive, reactive or apologetic every now and then.

Many a times, the practice of the profession is more of context than textbook definitions, although experts have variously documented antidotes to differing issues which practitioners may encounter from time to time.

Cutlip, Centre and Brooms sees public relations as the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.

What is propaganda? It is the direct opposite of public relations as
black is to white in contrast. Propaganda is an instrument of
communication employed as a form of control of public opinion. Unlike
public relations, it thrives on falsehood and false information to
gain organisational or public control. Unlike public relations,
propaganda employs the use of the media unduly on the publics. It uses
information as means of absolute control over and above its subjects.
Propaganda claims successes that do not belong to it. It enjoys
services of rabble-rousers, apologists and charlatans who claim to be
PR experts to propagate negative programmes of either a particular
government (who chooses to align with it) or organisation.

Public relations is not an instrument of vendetta as obtained in our political
scene where some media practitioners are hired as attack dogs against
oppositions. Also, public relations is not a profession of activism or
anti constituted authority, although it seeks for the welfare of the
people in an orderly and organised manner.

Public relations does not publicly propagate the shortcomings of
brand, product or organisation, although it recommends amends
internally and strategically. The profession of public relations does
not destroy image but builds and consolidates on good reputation.

Public relations goes beyond mere communication. Communication as tool
of public relations comes as part of the strategic process. All models
of public relations put COMMUNICATION as only one of the stages
involved in the planning process.

Now, let us take a look at RACE model propounded by John Marston. That
is, Research-Action-Communication--Evaluation.

By application, under RESEARCH, a public relations executive searched
for the newest information and news about his educational institution
and competitors online. To his chagrin, he found out that some
fraudsters had been advertising his university's admissions on a fake
website. Worse still, they have lured innocent parents and prospective
admission seekers to pay registration fees into private bank accounts. He also found out that certain people especially youngsters desperate for university admissions had fallen prey to these cheats.

The PR man takes ACTION. He swiftly reported to the vice chancellor,
the chief executive officer of his organisation who called for a
management meeting. The PR man was asked for a proactive solution.
Next is COMMUNICATION. The PR staff recommended that a disclaimer be
sent to both the traditional and new media informing the university's
publics to disregard any individual or individuals especially on the
internet, requesting for payment into private accounts as regards the
university's admissions adding that prospective parents or candidates
should either visit the university's official website or physically
come to its campus for registration. He also recommended that the
fraudsters' bank accounts be traced for probable apprehension of the

The information/disclaimer was sent out in press releases, public
announcements and classified advertisements on radio and television
stations, newspapers and websites.

Under EVALUATION, parents became aware of the admission rackets and
after a week or two, other academic institutions published similar
admissions disclaimer. This is a lucid example of a strategic
management of public relations issues which goes beyond media
relations or advertising as erroneously believed by many. Media relations is one of the strategic tools employed in public relations for dissemination of information to the publics.

Public relations is not advertising or advertisement. Advertisement refers to publicity of an idea, product, brand or service in the media while advertising involves planning, preparing, researching the idea, brand or product and fitting such into appropriate media. Advertising is the subject or profession which involves media planning, copy thinking, copy criticism, media buying and research on competing products or services

Advertising is the media publicity used to project a product, brand
organisation or brand favourably to a large audience through an
identified sponsor. People get more information about projects, goods,
services and ideas through advertising them in the media that have the
target audience.

A public relations person, as the eyes and ears of the management,
should be put at vantage position to see the inside and outside of any
organisation and from time to time. They should be empowered to tell
the implications of management policies and actions to its various
publics as it is their job to feel the pulse of their organisation's
stakeholders. A PR executive predicts occurrences, follows trends of
events and recommend appropriate actions to the management for
positive results.

Several PR experts have contended that all this strategic planning, proactive thinking and counselling has made public relations to be a strategic management function and not just communication or media relations.To separate public relations from propaganda is like separating the chaff from the grain or light from darkness.

* A member of NIPR, Katib writes from Crescent University, Abeokuta/[email protected]

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Articles by Idris Katib