For me, there are two practices in particular that I believe damage the reputation of PR. As the title suggests, I’m referring to the dreaded ‘spin doctor‘ and celebrity endorsement.
Don’t get me wrong, celebrity endorsement if used properly in the right context can do amazing things. Take Jade Goody for example, although some argue she was wrong to make money out of such a devastating illness, she also brought a lot of good. She became almost like an ambassador for cervical cancer. The day it was revealed that she had been diagnosed with the illness, the cervical cancer section of the Cancer Research website rose from 2,000 to 32,000. Cervical cancer screenings also rose by 21%.
Unfortunately, celebrity endorsement is often used the wrong way. A few weeks ago I remember seeing a television advert for American company Proactiv, or ‘Propaganda Proactiv’ as a few like to call it. The skin care company uses celebrity endorsement extensively throughout its campaigns, the celebrities pose and say how they ”love the product, it really works!” (yes, because I believe you haven’t been paid to say that!). In July their American advert featuring Justin Beiber and Katy Perry had been banned in the UK because it was ‘misleading’. I was shocked at how they were allowed to get away with it, they used the celebrities to play on emotions of insecurity and low-self esteem. Below is just one of their many adverts:
Although we all think we are, we are not completely immune to celebrity endorsement. When was the last time you bought an item of clothing or a brand of make-up because you liked the celebrity who endorsed it? We even do it subconsciously. You often see magazines showcasing celebrities wearing a particular clothing brand, written to suggest the celebrity bought it their self. Actually, in a majority of cases, the celebrity is sent the clothing for free by the company. It’s also common for the company to set-up some sort of promotion scheme with a celebrity. Of course, we’re not informed about that part. Can that be seen as propaganda?
Celebrity endorsement can also raise a mass of ethical issues. Kate Moss was dropped from numerous campaigns in 2005 when she was caught snorting cocaine. Yet, now in 2012 she still features heavily in Rimmel’s campaigns. Is it ethically wrong to use Moss considering young teens in particular will look up to her as a role model?
And let’s not forget the spin machine, here’s some statistics for you…
”PR material found its way into 54% of news stories. In 8% of cases the source was unclear. In only 12% of cases did journalists generate the stories themselves” – A study by journalist Nick Davies for Flat Earth News (2008).
Davies also goes on to conclude that ‘Spin’ will always make its way into the news, without it, newspapers wouldn’t always have a scoop.
And when it comes to spin, the majority of it seems to be linked to politics…
Public relations is rooted in politics, so while PR for businesses and other organisations has grown and changed, political PR has ”clung to old formulas” (Bernays – Propaganda), which may explain why propaganda is most commonly found in that sector.
Yet, Bernays also goes on to argue that particularly in politics, it is not necessarily propaganda that creates an image but that of the public who’s nature is to ”associate a perception with an organisation”. For example, he notes that people often criticise propaganda for creating a heroic image of the president of the US, that it is ”not the fault of propaganda but lies in the very nature of the office and its relation to the people”.
Max Clifford is often portrayed as the face of spin, when in fact, he thinks of himself as a publicist. He blames the media for portraying him as a ‘PR guru’. He isn’t even shy in admitting he lies for a living…
“I lie on behalf of clients. Sometimes I lie to get them in the papers and sometimes I lie to keep them out of the media spotlight. That’s my job”. (Quote by Max Clifford found on Justin McKeown’s blog).
Well we can’t blame a man for being honest! But just because he makes big bucks doing it doesn’t mean it is acceptable. Spin is a form of propaganda and a lie is still a lie, no matter how you dress it up.
Is there really any wonder why PR has such a bad name?