Puritanical Public Relations

PR messages seem to be all about fear campaigns, imposing penalties for “inappropriate” behaviour and doom laden forecasts at the moment.  This shows a poor understanding of human psychology – which ought to be a core skill of the effective PR practitioner.  It’s all stick and no carrot – which is scientifically shown to lead to learned helplessness or resistance. 

Update: Proving there’s no reward for good behaviour – What Car? reports that even though carbon dioxide emissions from cars have reduced, the government will still be beating on the motorist over this issue.  No credit ever goes to the industry or car users for addressing environmental concerns – come on media, praise where it is due.

Whether communicating about the environment, politically correct use of language, safety or security, PR practitioners seem to be supporting a depressive strategy that is unlikely to be engaging hearts or minds. But that doesn’t seem to matter since coercion and bullying tactics prevail.  Legal constraints, taxation and denying the alternative voice are the only tools being used to influence or persuade.  In fact, the PR message seems to be that members of society needs to be controlled like herded sheep.  Yes, we’ll undertake some consultation exercises – just so the people feel involved.   If life is to be about living under puritanical conditions of privation and state interference, enjoy your pleasures whilst you can.  Whether you like a little drink now and then, or enjoy the feel of the open road, let alone a bacon buttie, your days are numbered.  It’s all guilt trips and scare tactics.   

Where’s the creativity and serious debate PR guys?  Can we not engage in robust discussion on topics any more?  Anyone questioning the “inevitability” of environmental catastrophe is labelled a “denier”.  The media view is that marketing and PR are bad – unless practised by government or NGOs.  An injection communications model is assumed for advertising where we lose our ability to reason in the face of those promoting chocolate or “healthy” breakfast cereals.  And then the authorities use the same techniques for ludicrous campaigns to reduce consumption of drugs and alcohol.   

Advertising clearly doesn’t work – well, then let’s ban whatever it is we object to.  And there are activists eager to ban just about everything, hurling insulting labels at those who oppose them. We demand social responsibility for organisations and standards of openness and transparency that are never shown by those planning the attacks on our “bad” behaviour.  

In fact, they manage to get the media and others to do their job.  Let’s all buy into superficial schemes such as carbon offsetting to cancel out environmental damage. Let’s force individuals to recycle their rubbish, without tackling packaging production beyond another trading scheme.Unless the people at the top start treating citizens as intelligent and a real part of the solution, it will be more doom and gloom pedalled by the PR practitioners.  It is time for PR practitioners to tell bosses and the media that they need to lead by encouragement – offer reward for good behaviour, praise for inventions that deliver genuine benefits, interest in initiatives that are exciting and beautiful, and stop simply spinning statistics of failure and criticism. This is a fabulous planet which of course needs protection from stupid humans – but that doesn’t mean PR needs to adopt sackcloth and ashes to save it.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

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