Public relations is historically rooted in propaganda. Propaganda as a powerful tool has been debated for decades after World War l. Edward Barneys (1 928: 37) studies the efforts of propaganda in wartime, and argues that public relations as propaganda is a way of ‘manipulation’. For Barneys (1928: 37), this conscious, intelligent and organized manipulation is ‘an important element in democratic society, and ‘those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country’.
Therefore, in Barneys’ opinion, public relations as propaganda is a press gentry/publicity model, for it use manipulation to influence publics’ behavior to fulfill the desire of the organization. To evaluate Barneys’ ideas of publics relations as propaganda, we should see both advantages and limitations of the ideas. On the one hand, Barneys’ ideas are based on the analysis of wartime propaganda, thus, he considers that the manipulation of the audiences’ opinions is powerful and influential, and very necessary for our Mounties to promote a well functioning and developing society.
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The first large-scale usage of propaganda was during World War l. In that period, propaganda was mainly used by governments for political purposes. For instance, the recruiting poster of united States from World War I uses the image of Uncle Sam – the personification of the United States – to persuade young male to join U. S. Military army. The propaganda used by U. S. Government at that time was seen as a positive power to send positive ideology. On the other hand, Barneys’ ideas of public relations as propaganda have limitation.
Firstly, except bringing positive message, propaganda is also used by governments to spread biased or misleading information to reach their political purpose. Propaganda became seen as a ‘pejorative concept’ after the Second World War (Tenth and Yeoman’s, 201 3: 197), when people saw the power of Nazi propaganda – ‘promote anti- Semitism and the horrific consequences of that message’. In this term, rather than telling the truth, propaganda may hide message and bring negative influence to the society. Secondly, propaganda today became part of our everyday lives, and the forms of propaganda became increasingly various.
In the modern century, propaganda is not only used by governments, but also used by big business and dominant organizations to promote ideas, values, policies, etc. In addition, the forms of propaganda today contain posters, films, campaigns, etc. Propaganda is increasingly used in a positive way, for instance, social campaigns can raise social awareness, and health campaign can promote public health. Nevertheless, propaganda today is still not a balanced communication. As Partisans and Aaron’s (2001 : 7) point out: ‘every day we are bombarded with one persuasive communication after another.
These appeals persuade not through the give-and-take of argument and debate, but through the manipulation of symbols and of our most basic human emotions’. Therefore, we are in an age of propaganda, and propaganda today is an imbalanced two-way asymmetric model, for it uses manipulation as well as persuasion only to influence the audiences’ attitudes and behavior to achieve organizations’ aims without accepting the audiences’ opinions. Unlike propaganda, persuasion is not about manipulation but positive reinforcement and indirect suggestion (Perform, 2006).
According to Perform (2006), persuasion is a way of communication that attempts to induce a change in the attitude or behavior of the audiences through the transmission of a message, and the persuades has the freedom of choice. Nudge theory is an example of persuasion theory which uses a psychological way to affect the audiences (Thales and Sunniest, 2008). As Thales and Sunniest argues (2008: 6), ‘a nudge is a choice architecture that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives’.
In this term, advertising as well as public campaign are the practices of Nudge and persuasion harries. Nudge and persuasion theories also have strengths as well as weaknesses. On the one hand, the influence of nudge and persuasion is generally more positive and effective than negative; besides, they involve emotional appeals such as tension and fear; furthermore, this way of communication needs logical appeal, thus the persuades tends to be the educated people.
However, persuasion is still a two-way asymmetric model, because persuasion is about the communication between the sender and the receiver, even though the choice is non-forced, the attitudes and behavior of he sender are never changed by the receiver. Thus, it is still an imbalanced communication. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CHIP) gives its definition about public relations: ‘public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you’ (accessed in 2014).
For CHIP propaganda and persuasion are not enough today, rather than manipulation and reinforcement, understanding is more effective in today’s open society. CHIP (accessed in 2014) notes that ‘public relations is the discipline that looks after an organization’s reputation; its aim is to win understanding and support; it establishes and maintains goodwill and mutual understanding been an organization and its publics’. Therefore, Capri’s idea of public relations is about what the organization do, what the organization say and what the publics say about the organization.
In other words, public relations is a two-way symmetric model, for it involves two way channels Of communication – telling and listening. Organizations not only provide information to the publics, but also receive publics’ opinion, maintaining and promoting ‘mutually beneficial relationships’ (Cutlet et al, 006) between organization and its stakeholders. Public opinions is important because it ‘has major influence on trends, standards, and an organization’s reputation’ (McKenna, 1 984), thus the organization need to give respect to the publics.
In this term, Capri’s idea of public relations is an equal and balanced communication, and this is the ‘ideal’ of public relations. Moreover, it is a long-term process. To compare Barneys’ ideas of public relations as propaganda and today’s Nudge and persuasion theories with Capri’s definition of public relations, similarities and distinctions should be focused on. Firstly, they all involve communication in the degree of one-way or two-way; secondly, they all use various forms of media, such as radio, television or campaigns, etc. Thirdly, they all need audiences’ participation to fulfill the purpose of the organization. However, they are different in many ways. Barneys’ ideas of propaganda is about manipulation – to achieve the aim or interest of the propagandist (Fakes, 2006); Nudge and persuasion is about reinforcement and suggestion – effort at convincing people to change their attitudes or behavior with free choice, and influence people’s mental state wrought the transmission of a message.
Both in propaganda and persuasion, practitioners may spread incomplete, distorted or half-true information (Fakes, 2006). However, Capri’s idea of public relations is about reputation aim to establish and maintain goodwill and understanding, trust and support between the organization and the publics, thus to serve both interests. Therefore, public relations is about telling the truth. In Grunting and Hunt (1984)g’s four models, Barneys’ propaganda belongs to press agent/publicity model, and Nudge and persuasion belongs to two-way asymmetric model.
They are both imbalanced one-way communication, in which organizations are not responsive to the audiences – the relationship between organizations and the audiences are senders and receivers. However, Capri’s public relations is a two-way symmetric model. Its a balanced and mutual communication which involves telling and listening, in another word, there is no sender and receiver – the organizations are responsive to the publics’ opinions and give them feedback. In public relations strategies, Barneys’ propaganda belongs to Command and Control, Nudge and persuasion belongs to Contact and
Convince, while Capri’s public relations is Conversation (Tenth and Yeoman’s, 201 3) that ‘what you say’ and ‘what others say about you’. Moreover, according to Frank Jiffies (1994)g’s public relations transfer process, Barneys’ propaganda as well as Nudge and persuasion work at changing ignorance to knowledge, or apathy to interest; while Capri’s public relations makes an effort to changing hostility to understanding, or prejudice to acceptance. As a consequence, Capri’s definition of public relations is more suitable with the development in today’s open society.
In conclusion, the ideas of public elation’s and its strategies are changing over time. In today’s society, public relations is about understanding and mutual communication rather than manipulation, persuasion and one-way communication. As CHIP argues, public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you – and it is the ‘ideal’ of public relations. Only by telling and listening at the same time, can the relationship between the organizations and its publics become positive and mutually beneficial.