Chapter 12: Public Relations Public Relations, or PR as it is often referred to, is as old as history. Lately, it has changed drastically and has become a huge industry. PR firms are opening up everywhere and serve almost everyone in every lifestyle. They are not limited to businesses and corporations, but even governments employ PR firms to help them improve their image worldwide. It is a very effective and time-tested method of improving the image of the client as well as changing the inclinations of common folk. If the PR is rightly done, people can be influenced into almost anything, which can include mundane things like choosing which soap to buy for oneself, as well as unique concepts like the philosophy under which one lives his or her life and political viewpoints.
If one looks closely enough, the PR machinery can be seen clearly behind any venture, business or not, of companies, corporations and governments. One of the main problems with PR is that the PR companies are only concerned with representing their client and not with the well being of the public.
It is often observed that the public, ultimately, is always kept in the dark when it comes to the complete picture. An example in this regard would be the PR tactics employed by the McDonald’s corporation. In the aftermath of the documentary “Super Size Me, ” which showed that fast-food, generally, and McDonald’s, specifically, was unhealthy, innutritious and fat-laden, and could lead to many diseases including diabetes, hypertension and higher levels of cholesterol, people reacted strongly, some of them deciding to boycott McDonald’s completely. Facing a huge backlash and possible huge economic loss, McDonald’s launched a huge crisis management campaign whereby they tried to convince the public that their food was nourishing and nutritious.
They started contributing towards seminars held on educating the public about healthy food choices as well as informing the public about how many calories each portion of the food contained by printing it in bold print on their place mats, and generally trying to foster the company’s community relations. However, whether concrete steps were taken to change the corporation and make it more public friendly in actuality is still unclear, however, the PR firm employed by McDonald’s has definitely played its part in trying to convince the public that the corporation is, in fact, very public friendly. Similarly, if one looks at the Vioxx scandal, whereby the manufacturer, Pfizer, was negligent in informing the public about the possible side effects the drug had on the cardiovascular system, the FDA as well as Pfizer, launched PR campaigns through which they tried to do damage control.
The FDA launched the Drug Safety Oversight Board to convince the public that they were taking steps to ensure that something like this did not happen again (which according to experts in the Government Accountability Office is mere eyewash as it does not “address the lack of systematic tracking of ongoing safety issues”). The trend to portray only the favorable side of the client is prevalent because there is no monitoring of the PR firms and there are no rules that enable a system of checks and balances to be placed on the PR industry.
Often this absence of ethical responsibility results in the spread of gross misinformation to improve the image of their client without the client doing anything concrete or material to contribute towards this stated improvement.