1. How do the historical foundations of public relations apply to current day news? Please share some examples
Looking at the historical foundation of PR, we can look at Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. Lee said that rational people respond best to facts and figures and that PR is a two way street (message from the client to the public and the response the public gives to the message back to the client) . Bernays said
Public follows a trusted leader before considering the facts themselves. PR men are manipulators and shapers of public opinion and the public is irrational.
I think in contemporary PR, there is something of both to be found. It depends on the message that is sent. I do believe people can respond rationally to PR, and from that perspective, information that is presented as facts and figures do convince. But If you consider that 93% is conveyed via body and voice and only 7% is the message itself, then, from that perspective, a trusted leader might have more weight than the message. With this in mind I tend to think that Bernays was right when it comes to following a trusted leader. We can see this for example with the invasion in Iraq in 2003, when the US was still affected by the September 11 attacks. Here, I believe the emotion took over from rationality.
Nowadays, in the Netherlands we have the situation with the refugees from Syria. Some political leaders are using arguments that sounds compelling, that appeal to personal security of citizens (and instill a fear in them that their security might be breached with the coming of these refugees).
However, there is another segment of the country, that feels that the message this political leader tries to convey is wrong. The statistics which are used, seem compelling to one, but are in fact wrong. But many take these figures to be true, without properly researching them themselves.
Furthermore, the use of these statistics is all about context. Again, the refugee situation in Europe, in Britain they used absolute numbers of refugees who were coming into the UK, and the made it look as if it was an enormous number and the country was flooding. In fact, it turned out that it was only maybe about 0.02% of the entire refugee flow, yet they made it seem that all the refugees were headed for the UK. I believe this is the sin of omission, which might be considered ‘spinning’.
The Ivy Lee definition, especially the part about the two-way street is something that I believe is an essential part of PR. With the examples above, it might be partially clear. With the Iraq invasion, the message was, ‘we are not save, our security can only be guaranteed if we invade Iraq and get rid of the WMD’s.’ Sending that message received a message back, which was something like ‘yes, we should be save, and we are not right now, because we were attacked.’ So here we see the two-way street at work. The same goes for the refugee issue in Europe. Political leader listen to the public, one part that says ‘we are experiencing a lot of inconvenience from these refugees, so close the borders already’ and the political leader takes that in account in addressing the public. Another part of the country actually feels we should help out these refugees and they send out another message, which is sort of ‘pro-refugee’.
So there is a truth to both definitions, although I doubt to what extent rationality comes into play. I believe that depends on the topic (whether it is for example a societal message or a product advertisement) and the public (some people are more easily swayed by advertisement; others are more skeptical and prefer to research the information themselves before being swayed).
2. How might the role of public relations fit within a larger marketing campaign?
I believe PR is essential to a marketing campaign. A couple years ago, the Vodafone company had some difficulties with reception and it had a lot of bad press about it. Their market share tumbled in the Netherlands and afterwards they ran a marketing campaign to overcome this bad press. Nowadays they are back at the top again. So it is all about the message it sends. The product remains the same, but everything is about the message. The marketing campaign was extensive, it was all over radio, TV, the internet, and posters throughout cities so it was hard not to see. I assume that because we would see Vodafone everywhere, people could not help but think that Vodafone was still a big and a good phone company. In addition, they used some famous people to help advertise the company, which always works wonders, because the famous people are the people the ‘common man’ looks up to and wants to be. So seeing that famous person promoting that product, then we can all assume it must be a good product. Here again, rationality goes astray. Because we perceive the famous person as someone with authority (and not just a guy who is paid enough money to do the advertisement), we follow him or her, even though that person probably knows as much about phone companies and good reception and such.
In the end, I believe the marketing is a sub-part of PR and PR is not just a part of a marketing campaign.
3. How do you think developments in social media are impacting the field of public relations?
I believe they change the field of PR. At first it expands the fields. In addition to TV, radio, newspapers, and posters, we now have the various social media which can be utilized to disseminate the message. Due to the changing technology of internet and companies such as Youtube, Netflix and others, I believe the market share of television and radio will diminish, and as a consequence the revenue of advertisements via these channels. In order to retain the revenue, they are sort of forced to make use of social media, because large segments of the population are using one or more kinds of social media. In short, there is a shift in tools which are used to disseminate the message. The message itself remains pretty much the same. There is still a sender and receiver of information which should be both considered in creating the message.