In an uncharacteristically direct comment, my friend asked, somewhat rhetorically:
“The government does not need PR people at all, do they?”
“What do you mean by that?” I replied.
“Just give out the information,” said my friend. “Don’t pay people to lie.”
It’s common to hear (I hear it all the time) that civil servants are lazy, overpaid and incompetent.
And when it comes to government public affairs specialists, there is an accompanying stereotype. All of us, the lot of us, are not only lazy, overpaid and incompetent, but also a gang of bought-and-paid for, lying propagandists.
Since PR has such a sleazy reputation, it’s inevitable that people don’t like PR people very much, and the anger is magnified on social media:
- “Shill” is the derogatory term used to describe an individual, paid or sponsored (e.g. an intelligence agent) who solely represents one side of the story.
- “Astroturfing” is the derogatory term used to describe someone who markets a product or service by generating fake buzz.
- “Trolling” is when you get paid to aggravate somebody else expressing their opinion.
Let us be clear: The government should not be paying shills, astroturfers or trolls.
It is, in fact, illegal for the government to spend appropriated dollars (i.e. tax money) to propagandize its citizens.
But public relations, properly done, is not about lying.
You heard me right: It’s not.
The job of a public relations (what we call in the USA “public affairs”) specialist is to translate official activity such that the public can understand it.
The difference between providing information and providing translation is that you are explaining what’s going on in terms that the public can understand.
Unfortunately, over the course of many decades, government public relations specialists have been used, abused, and kicked around.
As a result, the integrity of government communicators is constantly questioned. When they’re only transmitting what has already been approved by others in the agency.
The U.S. government is fortunate to have many laws, policies and standards that apply to official communication.
But that framework is only as good as its enforcement.
If you’re hating on government public relations specialists, your anger is in my view misdirected.
Always look at the system.
Never at a single person.
Posted on July 16, 2017 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. The author hereby releases this post into the public domain. Public domain photo by whitfieldink via Pixabay.