The incredible opportunities for social and ecological Change are already the defining characteristics of Our Times. If our Species has ever had the chance to make Choices, then this is it. We can either cower in a nurtured need consume familiar goods and services, or we can shed some of th manufactured artifice that fuels our Consumer driven trends and values. Bringing us to this point in history.
The early 21st Century has dumped some pretty big choices in terms of what sort of Species we’d like to turn out to be. It’s time for Humanity to take stock of itself, and set some sustainable priorities for the Future.
Hardcore Urban Cyclists are naturally and keenly aware of the harsh realities of the road, and the sky, and most things in between, as a simple matter of survival. This is just as an effect of riding in and consequently fairly realistic about subjects like Consumption and Consumerism…This inate self-awareness of our place in Society might result from biking among the dangers of cars, and breathing the toxic results of such easy access to dirty energy, and all the excess that flows out from that mindset. Perhaps.
So we’re each in our own way, and to varying degrees sharing our collective human experience, even though larger forces are defining not only the circumstances that make up the urban cycling experience, but also how Motorists and Pedestrians will choose to perceive these, and how they fit into the bigger ecological picture.
As Consumers in a rather Media literate and socially savvy Mass Market, it’s still surprising to realize how much of our perceptions are shaped not just by Ad driven marketing, but also from an editorial channel for stories prepared and constructed to satisfy the needs of Public Relations that speak for entire industries as well as the corporate pillars that support them. Issues that foment our Public Perceptions according to that which best represents the true and underlying objectives of the institutions and corporate structures that construct our visible Society as we see it. Larger interests wishing to shape our Public Opinion on a much wider range of issues than we ever realize in the moment.
Consider perceptions around the recent case of Michael Bryant’s deadly run-in with a Cyclist…
PR was clearly and immediately at work in the Micheal Bryant case, and it was then widely reported that the prestigious Navigator Inc was not just behind the handling of Bryant’s public image, it was front and center in it’s efforts to do so. Curiously, the one role out of so many served by PR which is most often recognized by the Public is the role of “Crisis Management” expertise – usually applied when dealing with the fallout and shifting Public perceptions that become unsettled around negative events of course. Ironically, this savvy public sense of PR being at work represents a conspicuous visibility that is actually the LAST thing that most seasoned PR practitioners would ever desire when trying to manage a crisis.
Consider the aftermath of the Deep Water Horizon disaster, where we’re seeing countless mentions in the Media of the ongoing PR work that we’re now supposed to see as a Public Communications “Service”, rather than simply associating all the official news releases as “damage control”, or ‘spinning” of corporate interests. Since there seems to be a schism between what is, and what PR would like to see, perhaps we would benefit from a quick review of the historic role of Public Relations in modern Society…Before proceeding.
This trend to a more overt style of PR has been widely criticised by PR experts for going against the traditional standards of their field, yet these now is being increasingly embraced by an industry that is itself going through it’s own painful evolutions, along with the Mainstream Media outlets that it serves. This surprising change is being attributed to a newly emerged philosophy called PR2.0 (yes, another mock ‘upgrade’) that publicly espouses a radical shift from a central authoritarian broadcasting model, to a more peer-to-peer driven model that leverages an aire of “open” communications through the powerful reach of Social Media – and is supposedly being integrated (either visibly, or surreptitiously) into our Media landscape on a more human level. Considering this realization that PR firms now have a stated and vested interest in spreading info through our Social Networks, perhaps we should pause to re-consider the power of propaganda, rather than reflexively denying its existence in what we steadfastly consider our Free Society.
While Mr. Bryant spent the night in jail, the initial news around this story was about the aggressor Darcy Sheppard, his well publicized dispute with his girlfriend earlier that evening, and many reactions about how the police were remiss in their duties to keep a potential menace off the roads.
Whether the gathering and distribution of these facts was the result of crafted PR, or simply the result of astoundingly incisive investigative journalism and lightening fast TV reporting, is now irrelevant since the results are identical. What was also reported was that Mr. Bryant had engaged the services of a PR firm called Navigator, and therefore all these facts were simply homogenized into each report on an equal basis of fair disclosure.
The immediate hiring of a PR firm isn’t surprising to anyone, especially since Bryant certainly has the resources to get this sort of help, but it obviously and instantly polarizes the Public. Suddenly the side stories about drunkenness, other altercations that night, and a criminally checkered past seem like news-plants, rather than simply reading as facts.
Mr. Bryant is associated with the type of people who can also afford the very best lawyers, and thus can buy the very best judicial outcomes possible, while flexing public opinion along the way. In short this plays into all the public fears about an unfairly stacked system, and unfortunately the PR industry (due to some shameless self-promotion by Navigator) was now dragged down into this bottomless mess as well.
For no matter what the outcome of this matter is, the Public will only remember that a powerful man was either charged or acquitted, and that he used PR to achieve the best possible results in what is now seen as a heinous crime by most average people…Regardless of the outcome…Because (for better or worse) freely distributed images will always speak louder than professionally prepared words.
Once statements like the following are out on the Internet, there is no measure of PR that can ever take them back…
Perhaps however, a truly good PR firm could foster alternate views of the issues and arrange followup television interviews with these witnesses to discuss a “bigger picture” on the war between Cyclists and Motorists, or perhaps make them minor celebrities in a Populist movement towards Citizen based justice, or even just a segment about the absurd/unbelievable things that roadwork crews see and hear about on the streets.
Maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough, but I’ve yet to see a PR firm create a truly engaging and viral meme for public consumption, and it is likely that in the future, such creativity will likely be sourced from the entrenched and obviously commercial interests of Ad Agencies instead. Perhaps, Advertising will be the industry that consumes all Marketing budgets ultimately, and the Consumer will just tune everything out that isn’t packaged as Entertainment, and we can just forget about any real progress as a Society, or Civilization. Clearly, I digress. Sorry
At the current rate, it seems like the most promising aspects of PR are indeed at risk of being assimilated into other fields though, if the Public continues to be taught not to trust PR work.
As a result of the Bryant affair, many PR experts (anonymously voiced to the Media) that they are critical of the way Navigator inserted themselves so conspicuously in the case, handing out press releases and generally letting it be known that they were now in charge of Mr. Bryant’s communications. Quite obviously, most PR executives strive for invisibility at a time of crisis, they said.
“People are always suspicious they’re being played or manipulated, so it’s probably not a good idea to confirm it for them,” said one senior PR expert.
Daniel Tisch, president of Argyle Communications, was quoted saying that Navigator’s conspicuousness helped fuel a predictable controversy, one that reinforced a narrative of haves and have-nots – the rich former attorney-general with high-priced PR juxtaposed with a poor, dead victim with no voice at all.
“You always want good PR, but you never want your PR to become the issue,”
– Daniel Tisch, Argyle Communication
When a well read and respected newspapers like the Globe clearly spells out the procedural details of the entire process for damage control used in these cases, it further cements public perceptions about PR, and entrenches a belief that PR firms will always prefer to act behind the scenes, because visibility would somehow blow their cover, and ruin their desired results.
In all but the most heinous cases of personal damage control for wealthy individuals, such guiding principals for invisible professionalism, where the PR never openly steps into the limelight would conceivably be a disastrous precedent to base general PR methods upon in the future. Because not only are markets increasingly savvy about 3rd party associations, and representations, but because the future of excellent PR should in fact be founded upon the complete and polar opposite of covert back-room shenanigans and machinations. As many pundits have stated in their views of the (so called) PR 2.0 revolution, we need to put the “Public” back into Public Relations!