Monthly Archives: February 2014

Ethics and PR, the endless debate


Ethics in PR has always been one of the main issues discussed among the profession. If we go back to the origins of public relations, it is clear that the profession wasn’t the most ethical one. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was in favour of manipulating society and public opinions and he helped creating opinion-shaping methods.

As public relations grew as a profession and a real industry, authors and scholars never stopped questionning the ethical dimension of PR practices. In fact, as a PR student myself, that was the topic of our first essay this year, and 2000 words are not enough to cover the subject, but it’s a beginning.

The dominant paradigm in Public Relations today is Grunig and Hunt’s four models that are as follow :

Model Name Type of communication Characteristics
Press agent/Publicity One-way communication Uses persuasion and manipulation to influence audiences to behave as the organisation desires
Public Information Model One-way communication Uses press releases and other one-way comm techniques to distribute organisational information. The PR practitioner is often reffered as the in-house journalist.
Two-way asymmetrical model Two-way communication (imbalanced) Uses persuasion and manipulation to influence audiences to behave as the organisation desires. Does not use research to find out how stakeholders feel about the organisation.
Two-way symmetrical model Two-way communication Uses communication to negotiate with the public, resolve conflict and promote mutual understanding and respect between the organisation and its stakeholders.

However, the ethical dimension of each of these models can be discussed and questionned. Is there a better way to do PR ? Can PR practices ever be ethical ? Many people think that PR, just as advertising or marketing, is just manipulation, propaganda, a way for organisations to shape the public opinion.  It is true that in-house PR teams are here to help their organisations convey the best message and project a good image of their business. But how do you that without ever hiding anything ? Heather Yaxley also asks another interesting question : “An interesting question is how communications theories and ethics apply when the public relations function of an organisation uses lobbying to prevent information being available.  The approach may well have been a persuasive one in respect of government relations – but it is a total denial of communications to the wider public.


Is there one way to do ethical PR ? One would think yes, for NGOs or charities for example. But is it any different ? It is unlikely that doing PR for a “good cause” will change anything to the way we practice PR. Working for Greenpeace may be seen as a great thing, however, does Greenpeace always conduct ethical actions ? In fact, they sometimes use PR techniques to make their points.

There may be no perfect way to do ethical PR as it is in itself a profession that has to convey a message and sometimes bends the truth to its benefit but it is clear that the debate will never be over. And who knows, with hard work and more ethical practitioners, one day, PR will stop being linked to manipulation or propaganda.

References :

Grunig and Hunt, Managing PR (1984)

Further Reading :

Tagged , ,

PR and Marketing, a complicated love story…


PR, marketing, marketing PR (MPR), communications. You would think all of these words describe the same thing and you wouldn’t be too far from the truth. In theory, Public Relations, marketing, communications are three different things. In practice, the boundary between these three disciplines is getting more blurred by the day, especially since the rise of new media, the Internet and the ever-present social media platforms that shape our everyday lives. The famous PR pactitioner and blogger Mark Borkowski says that ‘The PR and marketing landscape has forever changed, thanks to the ever-present giant that is the internet – never was this more obvious than when I looked at my audience at the SearchLove conference, which consisted of a plethora of technophiles looking lovingly at their laptops.‘ (Nov, 1st 2013). He couldn’t be more right. You just have to look at the people on the tube, and realise that we are stuck to our screens all day long, reading, watching, sharing content that, for the most part, is produced by PR and marketing.

Viral videos and stunts are the perfect example that new technologies and the ability to put your content online so quickly has made the relationship between PR and marketing blurrier than ever. Is PR part of marketing ? I’d like to think not but many scholars and authoritative sources seem to think that PR is actually one marketing technique. Kevin Moloney, in his book Rethinking Public Relations (2006), declares that PR and marketing should work alongside now and not see themselves as arch-enemies : ‘Put together PR and marketing disciplines and they are better able to handle multifaceted propositions. […] PR and marketing techniques together offer the marketeer a wide-ranging variety of expressive modes (words, photographs, visuals, sounds) and a multiplicity of message distribution channels (e.g. editorial, paid advertisements, logos, competitions) to communicate the complexity in a persuasive way.‘ (p135)

And it is true that if you type ‘PR and marketing’ in the searchbar of Mashable, you end up with a long list of various articles about PR, marketing, advertising and so on. Everything gets blurred and the disciplines are starting to blend into a giant profession of ‘PR-marketing-communication-advertising-brand-journalism’. If you look at job offers, it is clear that today, PR practitioners need to be able to juggle many different tasks borrowed from marketing, PR, advertising and sometimes journalism.

Guardian - copie

It is clear that the Internet and social media have forever changed the perception that we have of PR and marketing, and it has definitely changed the practices but are the two disciplines going to merge or will they find a way to exist alongside and work together ? I hope for the latter, even though I know it will always be more difficult than ever to define and explain my profession to my family and friends. As if it weren’t complicated enough…

Sources :

K. Moloney, Rethinking Public Relations (2006)

Further Reading :

J. L’Etang,  Public Relations, concepts, practice and critique (2008) – Chapters 2,3,7 and 8

Tagged , ,

Nudge – Giving a little PR push


Last week, I learned a new word and expanded my vocabulary : nudge. In fact, without having the right translation, I knew what the word implied and meant. Literally, a nudge is a small push given to somebody to do something. The same way you would gently push your shy friend who can’t seem to be able to go talk to that boy.

What I didn’t know, more precisely what I didn’t want to acknowledge, is that this technique is used by PR agencies topush people to change their behaviours, either towards alcohol, cigarettes or the environment for example. So, is nudge becoming the new technique that could change the PR world ? After all, the PR industry has always aimed at changing the public’s opinions and behaviours, especially on social and environmental matters and it seems that talking and rational discourse is not enough anymore.

The car manufacturer Volkswagen has actually had a brilliant idea when they initiated the website ‘The Fun Theory’, a website dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better’.

the fun theory - copie

The Fun Theory website

Brilliant PR move indeed, especially from an automobile brand that will always have to counterbalance their production of polluting products with ‘good deeds’ or socially responsible initiatives.

The interesting idea about the Fun Theory is how you can easily change people’s behaviours with funny and playful PRtactics. And Volkswagen’s Piano Staircase for example proves that talking is overrated.

The brand has even created the Fun Theory Awards to push people to take part in making the world better with funny ideas and it worked as they received a lot of very creative things.

So, is nudge the future of PR campaigns ? Will it become the essential tool that PR people need to include in their programs ?

It seems to be working well for now and it is quite understandable : in a society where anything and everything is judged by the public opinion and where you have to be careful about any moral implication when you do something, the rational discourse can be seen as moralistic and aiming at making you feel guilty. Adding a little fun to social PR campaigns won’t hurt anyone, on the contrary.

Source :

Further Reading :

Nudge : improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness, Thaler and Sunstein (2009)

Tagged , , ,

PR is everywhere – how PR has made its way into our lives


‘If only for a second’ campaign

One of the main issue that remains today in Public Relations is the role of PR practitioners within their organisation. Many things have been said about PR practices and many words have been used to describe it : spin, propaganda,persuasion, and so on.

In his book ‘Rethinking PR’, Kevin Moloney (2000) even says of PR that it is ‘such a pervasive activity in our society today that it is impossible for a citizen or consumer to avoid‘. Indeed, PR has made its way through almost any activity, from finance to entertainment and it is now almost impossible to launch a business or conduct an activity without taking into account promotional issues and the importance of PR.

As a PR student myself, I realise that I now see PR everywhere (hazard of the profession ?). Every time I come accross a video on social media or an article, I can’t help but ask myself ‘What is the point of that video ? Is it driven or created by PR professionals ?’.

That’s precisely what happened when I stumbled upon the following video.


My brain immediately told me that it was not so innocent and after a quick research, I found out that the Mimi Foundation was the initiator of the project. Their mission is ‘to  contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of people affected by cancer, more specifically during the entire period of their chemotherapy/radiotherapy treatment.’ They created a dedicated website for the project and which includes, of course, a press kit with the inevitable press release.

The video was created by the agency Leo Burnett France and a book was published with the pictures taken on the day. The video has become viral and has reached more than 15m views on Youtube. And of course, it is a great project and makes you smile when you watch it. But would it be as powerful if it had not been planned and created by PR professionals ? Of course, for the random person, this type of video is another viral video that you share with your friends because you like the message. For someone who knows the whole process behind it, it just shows that PR is at the center of every single type of activity nowadays. In fact, Cutlip and Center (2013, 11th ed.) go even further when saying that ‘One of the few generalizations in Public Relations is that an organization’s public reputation derives in substantial part from the behaviorof its senior officials. […] Thus, public relations is inescapably tied, by nature and by necessity, to top management, with public relations staff providing counsel and communication support.’

Which basically means that no organisation today can survive without PR practitioners. But is it really happening in real life ? And more importantly, what exact role do PR professionals hold within their organisation ? It seems to me that the importance of their profession and their influence upon the decision-making process is increasing by the day, and that people do not apprehend the major role that PR has in our society today.

References :

Cutlip and Center (2013), Effective Public Relations, 11th ed.

Moloney, K (2006), Rethinking Public Relations, 2nd ed.

If only for a second Press Kit :

Press Release


Tagged , ,