Public relations, the guarantor of our democracies?

11/05/2022
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The war in Ukraine, the French elections, Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter or the climate emergency are all topics that are currently being discussed in the media and on social networks. Each stakeholder has an opinion on these issues, and uses traditional media as well as social platforms to share and relay their points of view, in a more or less objective way. This is the essence of public relations, which allows citizens/consumers to develop a critical view of society through the expression of the views of different organisations.

~The debate of ideas as a pillar of our societies

Bernard Dagenais said in 2004 in a fascinating study that « as soon as an idea is affirmed, its opposite appears ». It is this concept that makes many of the world’s media today more of a place for the debate of ideas than a place for the expression of a dominant point of view. Yet democracy is precisely a system in which any advocacy can be met with counter-argument. This advocacy approach is the basis of public relations, which enhances the speeches and messages of organisations and brands to their targets. The media, whether social or traditional, play the role of intermediary, sometimes as a filter, particularly in the selection of what is deemed relevant or essential, with each one ranging from total freedom to firm control of content.

~Public relations as a contributor to the definition of knowledge

What is knowledge if not access to the range of opinions surrounding the facts in order to form one’s own point of view on the facts, and through the constant circulation of information that organisations hold and transmit to citizens? This is where public relations is the keystone in the construction and definition of knowledge, especially that which is built up over time. The example of Covid speaks for itself in the cycle of knowledge creation: at the beginning we know nothing, knowledge develops, opinions and positions also evolve, with the episodes of the masks, Professor Raoult, vaccines, and polls on the opinion of the French as epidemiologists! Social networks, the media, elected officials, learned societies, experts, Internet exchanges, every public relations channel was mobilised, sometimes with excess, excess or disinformation, but all this obviously contributed to common knowledge.

~The advent of transparency as a referent for public relations

It is because everything becomes public very quickly, and sometimes with disconcerting virality, that public relations have an even more important role to play than at the end of the last century. Three major roles stand out for many organisations: the complexity of the different channels (public affairs, media relations, social networks, events, digital marketing, crisis management) to be monitored and understood, the increased need for architecture and coherence of positions on all channels, and the adaptation of messages on each channel, as journalistic codes are quite different from those of institutions or social networks.

Since each point of view, each statement is strongly amplified, it is therefore very quickly subjected to criticism and debate and thus brings out the opposing arguments. Our democratic societies need to generate these debates, while respecting certain common rules of ethics and morality, but defending one’s convictions and thus trying to rally a maximum number of people to one’s cause. Public relations professionals are there to help organisations communicate better and thus contribute in their own way to public debates, and thus to a more successful democracy!

The quality of our communication is determined not by the way we say things, but by the way they are understood.” Andrew Grove, Professor of Strategy at Stanford, and former CEO of Intel.

Patrick Bonin, Managing Director

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11/05/2022

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