Monday, June 27, 2011

Neanderthal PR

       So far, you must think that I have it in for PR --certainly for the PR industry.
       Well, I work in this industry.  And I think there is good stuff and bad stuff –and that you don’t have to follow Edward Bernays’ idea of "PR"– even if he did invent the phrase.. While Bernays may have given a name to  it,  "PR" is just one of those things, that people have being doing for aeons but had other names for.  Like “psychology” for example. 
      What do  you think, the Neanderthal’s cave paintings were?   Or course – art, self expression – but also PR.   Our supposedly primitive forebears had the Wow Factor too.  Yarhhh!! Look at  Erg and Ugh and Brog and me killing  a the Hairy Mammoth.  We’re the Mammoth Men!.Awesome! Incredible.  And so is our Tribe, which you can trust us to lead.  We're Cool -- We're the Mammoth Men.  Ferocity that you can Trust!
    All human communication involves “PR”.  What do you think a brassiere is?  Or lipstick?  And if Johnny wants to date Jenny, he needs the right image.  “PR” at every turn.
   In previous times, of course, there was the kind of PR where the King made a speech to his loyal subjects and lopped off the heads of anybody who didn’t look impressed.  
   But on a more equal level – people interacting with other people more or less freely – communication was direct, was multidimensional, and (if you like) multimedia -- with dress, accessories, body language, facial expression, tone of voice, as well as words playing a role.  Think of bargaining in a market.  Oh yes, it was about buying things cheaply or selling them expensively.  It was utilitarian. It was also a game, a competition.  It was work and it was fun.  If you did well, you gained status as well as the kumquat you wanted to buy.
     The whole thing was also spontaneous rather than scripted..  Most important of all, it as dialectical – there was immediate feedback -- back and forth, immediate response. .  It was harder to lie.But you did anyway and mostly everyone knew.
       Of course, in other situations you had to be more careful  -- someone might kill you if they didn’t like what you said.
   Today things are different. 
   While we talk a lot about “multimedia” today, we are talking about technologies, which we can control..Using such technologies, radio, TV, movies, the web, Twiitter,-- we are rarely spontaneous – and our purposes are not always obvious.
    When Barack Obama gives a speech, it is carefully written – by someone else of course – and rehearsed. Every gesture, every expression is scripted.  Advisors will use video playback in rehearsal, so the President can see exactly how he looks.  Focus groups check audience reaction.  The aim of the speech is usually simple – make people trust him, believe in him. “Change you can believe in” was as big a lie as any history – but people bought it. The medium is the message.
    Sovereign doesn't really talk about what it does. It gives few examples. It pretends to be "just folks" like you when it is really a big impersonal corporation run for the enrichment of its owners.  Lots of people buy into this -- for a while.
   To the  extent that is dishonest, people eventually “get it” when PR is just leading them on.  But when they realize they have been seduced, induced, and reduced , the shit hits the fan.
     So PR should be ethical and honest, if only as practical matter.

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