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23.7.06

PR nonsense and the horrors Lebanon

I did wonder how long it would take – but it seems I was more optimistic than most on how the PR industry would deal with the horrors of Lebanon. I understand that every crisis offers an opportunity but Alan Caruba, I think, has crossed a line with the following press release:

War poses PR problems says Public relations Expert

South Orange, NJ – “Doing public relations in times when the nation’s attention is focused on the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon requires careful judgment and sensitivity,” says Alan Caruba, a veteran public relations counselor.

Event-related PR and publicity “must go on no matter what is occurring,” says Caruba, “but some PR campaigns should probably be delayed and rescheduled rather than compete for the public’s attention.”

While life may seem normal in America, the issue for public relations professionals is how much attention is being directed to the war “and right now events in Lebanon dominate the news cycle 24/7. It is virtually the only story and has pushed news out of Iraq off the front page along with other major issues such as immigration reform.”

“Lebanon is a news tsunami and public relations programs requiring national outreach and attention need to be cognizant of its impact,” says Caruba.

For those who have a business-related interest in the outcome of the current conflict, however, the opposite applies. “Any entities whose interests are going to be directly affected by the way events unfold in Lebanon and the Middle East need to be maintaining an pro-active PR program to insure those interests are protected, reassuring investors and the business news media.”

This advice has been borne out in the way corporations, financial services, and other elements of the business community have been providing analysis to the news media relative to their enterprises. The stock market has been a good indicator of the success of this effort.

“For anyone who has a dog in this fight,” says Caruba, “public relations is going to be a key factor in how events are being perceived.” This is a time, he says, when public affairs PR is going to demonstrate the important role it plays in shaping public opinion.

In September, Merril Press will publish “Right Answers: Short Takes on Big Issues”, a collection of commentaries excerpted from his weekly column from 2003 through 2005. Caruba’s writings are widely read on news and opinion Internet sites, disseminated on many blogs, and often published in the mainstream press.


Back to me again! What’s going on? Sure people are dying (whichever side you are on – and I side with no one here other than the innocents who don’t deserve to be bombed). But I do wonder that people can spot an opportunity at times like this.

“For anyone who has a dog in this fight,” says Caruba, “public relations is going to be a key factor in how events are being perceived.”

I’m sorry! But this is an event you cannot spin - and why would you? Commercially and, from a brand point of view, stay far away. Hezbollah have their agenda – the destruction of Israel - and Israel, has their’s ie protecting their people and putting down people who threaten that and... the destruction of Hezbollah. To address it as a PR exercise is nonsense. PR does play a part but it should only be one wrench in the toolbox of negotiation, where it will ultimately end (I hope!) in a more appropriate press release.

PS – I’m not Jewish or an Arab. Although, curiously, I’ve been asked by both tribes whether I am - dark swarthy, looks help inform every prejudice. By the way my background is Irish, via Liverpool – which, given what is happening in Lebanon, is another story that we might learn from.

5 comments:

Alan Caruba said...

Sorry, but this is a professional commenting on how current events affect the practice of public relations. Moreover, it is incredibly naive to think that PR is not playing a role in the war Hezbollah unleashed on Israel. Nasrallah is giving interviews to the press. The Arab and Iranian press is putting its "spin" on events. The commentary you criticize was written by me and I do not apologise for a word of it.

Ian G said...

Fair point Alan - but surely Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon and all the others involved in this mess are using public relations in a political context to further their own particular agenda.
This has always been the case and I accept that PR has always been used in the political arena.
However, where I do have concerns is where PR is used for commercial gain during a crisis like this. What next? "Israeli Army praises new guided missile says ACME Bomb Makers."

Simon Collister said...

Hi Ian

I believe PR constitutes a range of tools used to build and manage reputation - not solely for business purposes.

I would argue that being seen as the more reputable side in the conflict will play a large part in helping decide who is percieved as victorious.

It's a battle for hearts and minds as well as land and geographical supremecy.

Good to see you blogging by the way!

Ian G said...

Hi Simon!

Thanks for the feedback.

I agree - I also believe PR constitutes a range of tools used to build and manage a reputation.

But as an old hack, however, I am perhaps more cynical than most. My job is to promote and preserve the reputation of my clients. And on that point I would advise them to go no where near this is issue - from a commercial point of view, as I believe no reputation will emerge un-sullied from this conflict.

You would argue "that being seen as the more reputable side in the conflict will play a large part in helping decide who is percieved as victorious".

No-one will emerge victorious because all victories will by Pyhrric in this conflict. All that will happen is that borders and some minds might be redrawn. But... what about peace?

Back to my main point - I don't see any mileage in promoting any commercial client in the midst of human conflict.

My mind drifts back to the Home Office PRO who sent the email about this being a good day to send out a contaversial press release... on the day of 9/11.

No exclamation mark required.

Alan Caruba said...

"However, where I do have concerns is where PR is used for commercial gain during a crisis like this. What next? 'Israeli Army praises new guided missile says ACME Bomb Makers'"

I totally agree. The whole idea of seeking commercial gain while people are dying is an anathema. My commentary simply noted the questions surrounding the timing of PR while the Hezbollah vs Israel war is going on.

It's a matter of good sense and, one hopes, good taste. The other's comments on the role of PR during war should be, I suspect, more directed to the role of propaganda rather than public relations. The former has a recognized function in times of war and it is frequently about deception.

A former journalist myself, I regard anything other than the truth in PR to be a grave ethical offense.

Finally, I have found your blog of great interest. Keep up the good work.