Thursday, March 5, 2015

PR As Spin


The big question that nobody likes to face is simple: why does PR fail as much as it succeeds?  The fact is that despite all the effort put into it:  “spin” is just a spin of the media roulette wheel – keeping in mind that the House – the PR agency – always wins.

A lot has to do with the concept of PR itself (aka propaganda, public diplomacy) -- the underlying "meme" -- which assumes that there has to be someone smart  in control of the “narrative”.  

That is, a select few, intelligent well-educated people – “experts” can “persuade” vast numbers of other people not only to believe things that may or may not be true through artful control of the media – but to get them actually do things, like vote a certain way or join the army or buy a certain toothpaste.

This idea of individual genius is of course important to the many people who make a living from selling their presumed “exceptional” ability to persuade.  

From this point of view,  human societies are divided into the Few and the Many --the Smart and the Stupid –  the Deserving and the Undeserving .  

Only elites   self-aware and  truly human and all others – the hoi polloi – the crowd, the “mob” – are semi sentient animals. 

Such neo Darwinian elitism drives all hierarchical societies –  all large scale societies, from Rome to the Renaissance Florence to modern America.  

Hitler, Stalin, and the modern corporate CEO, whether a Koch or a Gates are a result.  Alpha males?  No, Apex Males   What is hierarchy without a hierarch?  

Exceptionalism = authoritarianism.

But do our Leaders really deserve their position?  Are they really "better" than you or me, or my cat (whom I serve with great devotion)?

Was Hitler all that smart?  Oh, that moustache!  Stalin?  (soup strainer on upper lip again).   The Koch Brothers, with the smug grins that only three cubic kilometers of cash can buy?

Rich guys Gates and Steve Jobs indeed shone – but not as brightly as some of the guys who worked for them--and came up with the actual innovations that made Windows and Apple famous.   Gates and Steve Jobs were not geniuses – just good at using geniuses -- which is not another thing.  They rode on the back of technological progress that derived from the efforts of many -- rather than a few.

Only the famously dyslexic and creative but not too well organized Richard Bramson honestly credited those who helped him achieve his notable success.  Ironically -- compared to Gates and Jobs he was the closest to actual genius.
 As an entrepreneur, I learned that surrounding myself with people who were better than me at specific tasks put me at an advantage because I was free to focus on the things I was good at.

No matter --the somewhat elitist myth of the Expert is good news for Spin Doctors (like me).

Edward Bernays

We just give new names for old things – and publicize what people already know and want.

Edward Bernays got his start in wartime propaganda -- later renamed it “public relations”, and set the stage for further euphemisms such as “public diplomacy”.  

When you rename something, it always sounds like you invented it.  So Bernays is now called the Father of Public Relations, even though the art of public persuasion had been around since Demosthenes, who actually talked to people.

Ah,  but was not Edward Bernays able to persuade a generation of young women that smoking was the “normal” thing to do --not the mark of a slut as they had been previously taught?

Bernays -- just one man – representing a cabal of tobacco manufacturers!  One man persuading a small group – then persuading millions, creating a social revolution?   Surely, that took something special – something exceptional.

Yes -- exceptional opportunism.

"Spin" meisters are narcissists.  

And "Spin" is self love writ large, using the power of whatever media are available.

The revolution that Bernays supposedly started had already happened, with women assuming new roles during world war one – which by killing off a lot of young men, skewed gender ratios in their favor.  Suddenly, after the war, women were ready to do things that only men had previously done – because necessity had forced them into these roles.

From this:

To this:

Women may or may not have liked their new freedoms or  responsibilities in the beginning, but once used to it, they wanted more – and   they demanded the rights conferred by temporary expedience be ordained by Law – the right to work, make decisions on their own, get educations, vote, swim at the beach,  find their own sexual partners – and, yes, smoke.

So Bernays was preaching to the converted -- jumping on a bandwagon – and moving to the front to lead.

Afterwards, he pretended that it was he, Edward, who had created the parade, all by himself.

Bernays made a lot of money.   But he did not create a new belief system for the masses.  Rather, they evolved a belief system   – which he borrowed – and sold to the fat stupid men who owned tobacco companies.

He capitalized on social evolution.  But then -- that's capitalism, isn't it? 

What was Bernays if not the Don Draper of his time?

Spin doctors are con men. But the first people they con are not you or me -- but their clients – the guys who pay.

Next question:  if all this is the case, could we ever get rid of "spin" from our lives? 

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