Publicist Mark Borkowski manfully fought off the flu to present at the Word of Mouth conference today. I’m so glad as we share a common interest in the history of public relations and particularly, their imaginative approaches to attract attention. Suprisingly the marvellous tales of such greats as PT Barnum , Jim Moran and Harry Reichenbach aren’t widely known – but they should be.
I agree with Mark that public relations professionals can learn so much from looking back – even if discovering what not to do regarding the manipulative propagandist approaches of Edward Bernays whose techniques were adopted by the Nazi regime. Then as now, it proves that in public relations it isn’t what you do, but why you are doing it. If to entertain a willing audience with a creative stunt-driven news story which will be eagerly passed on by word of mouth – that’s one thing. But to seek to deceive or dupe people into action that you know to be bad for them is not a use of PR of which I’d be proud.
Borkowski also raised some very interesting points about abuse of power by government and big business – especially in the face of vocal and wide-ranging public opposition. This links into the critical and post-modern perspectives of public relations discussed by PR academic Derina Holtzhausen – which question whether PR is just the tool of the dominant forces in society. Of course, PR techniques are more widely used today, and the emergence of blogs, citizen journalism and social media offers an opportunity for other voices to be heard – despite the best efforts of the self-perpetuating dominant oligarchy.