Public relations professionals should be appalled by
the predominant campaign tactics used in the 2018 elections.

Countless definitions of public relations have been developed by practitioners and scholars over the years. They use different terminology, employ divergent techniques, and permit varying degrees of deception and manipulation. But, despite all their differences, their central premise always stresses building and maintaining positive relationships between a client -- whether that client is a single individual or a massive organization -- and the publics which impact that client. This encourages mutual understanding, cooperation, and camaraderie which makes public relations an optimistic, positive, and constructive profession.

It can, however, be very competitive, and one of the oldest arenas for competitive public relations is politics. Candidates for elective office have always needed to garner support from their constituents and "win the hearts and minds" of a majority of voters. They do this by publicizing their policies and proposals, making sure the public understands what they want to do once they're in office, and convincing them to vote accordingly. It's gone on for centuries using such public relations techniques as "stump-speaking," campaign slogans and songs, rallies, brochures, posters, mass mailings, ads, endorsements from community leaders, going door-to-door to talk with prospective voters and, at the Presidential level, cross-country "whistle-stop campaigns" of speeches and hand-shaking. It was all meant to make candidates better-known and help them build a base of political support.

At least, that's how political campaigns used to work and how they still should.

Alas, during the last several election cycles we have drifted farther and farther way from that ideal. This year is by far the worst. Almost all of this year's election campaigns are based on attacking and discrediting an opponent rather than promoting the accomplishments and ideas of the candidates themselves.

In the past, candidates ran campaign ads that stressed their views and made them appear competent, concerned, or, at the very least, likeable citizens who cared about their community and its future. Such ads are few and far between this year. This year's campaign ads emphasize negativity. Most make no attempt to attract voters to the positive attributes of a candidate but strive to portray opposing candidates in such negative and disgusting ways that decent and thoughtful people won't vote for them. Instead of proudly explaining what they stand for and trying to gain support for their positions, candidates have focused on tearing down and defaming their opponents, sometimes by citing things their opponents have done or failed to do and, at other times, simply by linking their opponent's name to the most hated people imaginable -- Obama, Hillary Clinton, or Nancy Pelosi for Republicans; Trump, Mitch McConnell, or Hitler for Democrats.

In effect, this year's candidates are not seeking votes for their own good qualities and ideas, they're trying to get votes because they aren't as vile and disgusting as their opponents. They want voters to vote against someone else rather than for them. This is truly a sad state of affairs. Elections no longer offer Americans a chance to choose the best and most qualified candidates for public office; we've been brought down to the level of choosing the candidates who are less-sleazy and less-disgusting than their opponents.

 
ABOUT THIS SITE
:  Initially created to support the public relations courses I taught at Northern Kentucky University, it's now used as a supplemental text in scores of university courses worldwide. It's also used as a reference or refresher by PR professionals, especially those preparing for accreditation or certification exams. Since I retired, site updates are no longer on a strict schedule but usually occur every 6-8 weeks.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC, Professor Emeritus
Northern Kentucky University

 
Disney calls it magic;
I call it very effective public relations.

Disney is one of those organizations that triggers a bipolar response in people; they love it or they hate it. There just aren't many middle-of-the-road opinions about Disney whether you're talking about its theme parks, its resorts, its films and television programs, its toys, wearables and other merchandise, or even its founder, Walt Disney himself.

Disney-lovers fully believe in its magic and accept its kingdoms as the happiest places on earth. Most who work there wouldn't work anywhere else even though they might make more money. Others return year after year for vacations and claim they would move in and live there if they could.

Skeptics and Disney-haters see it as childish, domineering, too big, and too expensive as well as money-hungry and out of touch with reality. They claim it promotes silly fantasies, encourages children to suck money out of their parents for over-priced trinkets and snacks, and demeans employees by making them dress in silly costumes and act goofy.

But, love it or hate it, public relations professionals cannot deny that Disney has an exceptionally fine and well-honed public relations operation, especially for guest relations and cast relations. -- Non-believers might speak of these as customer relations and employee relations, but Disney people never do. -- Nomenclature is very important in the Disney realm.

Even in a Disney shop making a purchase, people are never referred to as customers or even as visitors. They're always referred to and are supposed to be treated as "guests." And, the people who attend to them are called "cast members," never employees or staff. That's because they're the ones who make the Disney experience magical for the guests, just like the cast of a show brings that reality to life for its audience.

Having just come from a week re-visiting Disney's operations in Orlando, I'm more impressed than ever. I won't call them magical because I don't think magic is the secret to Disney's success. I think it's meticulous planning, exceptional security, painstaking attention to detail, thorough training, cast member discipline, and a sincere desire to combine guest and work experiences in ways that make Disney properties happy places to spend time.

I encourage you to learn more about Disney's public relations. -- There's a lot to read that will help you wherever and for whomever you perform public relations. -- I also encourage you to visit Disney's kingdoms and resorts, carefully observing and talking to guests and cast members. You might not see magic, but you'll experience great public relations.

 

 
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Effective crisis communicators shift into recovery mode after the crisis has passed.

Some authors, including me, have used a gun-fight analogy to talk about preparing for, and responding to, a crisis. -- Always watch for trouble, don't draw until it's absolutely necessary, be sure of your target, aim carefully but shoot fast, etc. -- It's a fun, albeit perhaps overly dramatic, way to discuss being ready for a crisis. The problem is: it leads people to think everything will instantly go back to normal when the "shooting" is over.

But, that's not true. Not for gun-fights, and not for a public relations crisis. There's usually a messy and sometimes prolonged aftermath. It can include caring for the wounded, clarifying underlying causes, making changes to prevent further crises, reassuring the public, and re-establishing a sense of security. None of these things happen automatically. Nor do they happen overnight. And, regrettably, they're often not addressed by crisis management gurus.

A similar observation was recently made in an online article by Mark Dollins and Laurel Kennedy. They both have extensive, high-level public relations experience and have helped guide major corporations through public relations crises. They argue: "The acute phase of crisis communication is well documented, crisis recovery is less understood and equally critical."

To remedy this, they recommend a five-step process for crisis recovery and reputation repair that can help an organization get past its crisis and ultimately return to business as usual. The five steps which are addressed more fully in their article are:

  • "Recognize the acute crisis has ended, time for a shift to recovery mode.
  • "Recalibrate activities, assess the damage to the company, brand.
  • "Repair reputation, articulate an outreach strategy for key stakeholders.
  • "Redirect negative dialogue, preempt with positive programming.
  • "Reinvigorate brand values and the stated social contract."

I'm not fond of their jargon, but I do like their basic approach. Their underlying ideas are sound and warrant consideration. They're a much better approach to the aftermath of a crisis than the image of Wyatt Earp standing in the street blowing smoke from the barrel of his trusty six-shooter.

More about crisis communication.     

This website was on Northern Kentucky University servers when I taught there and for quite a while afterward.
Then, NKU announced it would no longer support "personal faculty websites" and I moved it here.

 
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Updated: 10/23/2018