Blowing your own trumpet or beating your own drum will not win you many fans. But having someone else advocate your cause will leave people intrigued. This is what lies at the heart of PR, but alas this basic fact is often forgotten in the day to day machinations that clients and PR consultants alike pass on as Public Relations. Advocacy lies at the very heart of professional and ethical PR, and the more we veer away from this basic tenet, the more harm we cause to the cause.
Like it or not the origin of PR is shrouded in murky propaganda deployed by early twentieth century governments and industrialists of North America in pushing their agenda. By and by as PR as a profession moved towards respectability, it came to be realised that for it to be seriously considered as an agent of public good, it had to operate by a set of ethics. While it advocated the cause of its clients, it should do so by way of representing and communicating the facts in a manner that was above board and truthful. This in essence meant that the interests of the intended recipients of the message were recognized as being equivalent with those on whose behalf the message has been crafted.
The difference between advocacy and propaganda is the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship. In a democracy you have the right to free speech. Which means that you are free to publicly advocate any cause, as long as you convey facts and do not resort to lies or slander. You are at liberty to interpret and apply perspective, and people have the right to accept it or reject it. How successful you are depends upon the facts of what you are advocating and how skillfully you can represent them.
In the case of a dictatorship the messaging is controlled and force-fed. Neither do the recipients have access to any other source of information, nor are they allowed to express their doubts or displeasure. If the North Korean people are told that birds cried and the weather changed when their beloved leader died and if any of them disbelieved that fact they would be shot, the message would go across! But it would do the people no good. In the former case everyone is equally free to advocate; in the process the people can make the best choice.
PR consultants who understand advocacy for what it is, know that the ground swell created by it will far outlast the results obtained from the most expensive advertising campaign in the world. This is because unlike advertising which builds hype, advocacy builds goodwill. When Obama launched his first presidential campaign, even his most ardent supporter would have balked at the odds against him. But his articulation of an alternative vision and template of growth caught the fancy of an America which was in the throes of transformation. People were sick of the excesses of the past, and tired of the bad news about a floundering economy and unending foreign wars. So much so that people voted him into office a second time.
Advocacy by its very nature requires time to fructify, and this is something that both clients and PR consultants need to know right at the start. But the payback is well worth the wait.
Originally published at https://content-rules.blogspot.com.