Do you hear the people sing? Sing the songs of angry men by @sportmarketing1
The words of Les Miserables and the stand out lyrics of the impending French Revolution whilst setting up the barricades has a vibrant resonance with some modern day perceptions and echoes of PR. Amazingly intuitive words perhaps of our own society that sensationalises every nuance of behavior, as people are ‘turned on’ by capture of headlines, dramatic incidence and tumultuous happenings. Or is it just a reflection that every news item now contemplates first reaction and then the detail?
Perhaps more pertinent and emblematic of these constructs are the ‘Angry Young Men school (Alan Sillitoe John Osborne et al)’, who as various British novelists and playwrights in the 1950s, expressed deep scorn and disaffection with the established order of their country, and who in turn were maybe the modern forefathers of the latest ‘blame culture’ that pervades a lot of PR product? Their own basic impatience and resentment was especially aroused by what they perceived as both hypocrisy and mediocrity of some establishment pillars, thereby provoking lots of rhetoric and reaction in the press as well as their own published works-not too dissimilar to my notions discussed within this PR blog?
The adages of classic PR speak- Spin-‘Truth or Fiction?-plus the debate surrounding Public Relations activity and business ‘kudos’, is becoming increasingly an issue in the public domain. Some notable historic business disasters like Baring’s Bank and Enron, and more recently the Co-Operative, have followed on from perhaps the best known historic ‘gaffe’ of all time with Gerald Ratner’s infamously ‘knocking’ of his own products as ‘crap’, which have led to a heightened spotlight for greater visibility and accountability.
So can we really blame PR for creating an angry public?
We are becoming a much more litigious society and feel that ‘blame culture’ and having easy scapegoats are the norm. A Marketing Communications analyst writing in The Journal of Marketing Communications’ rather provocatively entitled his article ‘this company sucks .com’,* where he inferred that with the advent of instant gratification through The World Wide Web that companies are laying themselves open constantly with feedback channels online for people to always complain!
Surely the argument should be that in a pluralistic society PR is about giving ‘voice’ where the voice gives authority, credence and value to ‘groups’ and ‘publics’ who may well share as well as having different values. The result of this phenomenon’ is that, rightly so, self-preservation comes through ‘self-presentation’ where we can deduce the ‘attention for advantage’ syndrome. We undoubtedly now inhabit a ‘promotional culture’ universe where one of its distinctive features is an ‘argument culture’ where learned scholars postulate as Tannen(1998) argues: ‘Our spirits are corroded by living in an atmosphere of unrelenting contention-an argument culture-….which urges us to approach the world-and the people in it-in an adversarial frame of mind’.
There is a clear distinction to be made in PR activity when the notion of ‘positive spin’ is prevalent and necessary. One can always distinguish between the positive need for making an argument in public than the just negative view of having an argument for its own sake. On this basis one could argue ‘spin’ is always relevant where truth overtakes fiction, and consequently that ‘voice’ or ‘words’ can be significantly rather more relevant, thus countering the view that ‘actions speak louder than words’!!
The concluding notions about PR values and roles in a modern society should centre on engagement with its publics. Which is why critically perhaps PR should point the way to, maybe still just a fading belief and summary wishful thinking, to delivering much more good news?
PR is very much the ‘voice’ of mass-mediated interests and opinions. Sometimes there is a blur with an increasing emphasis, probably being driven and epitomised by societal preoccupation with the ‘commit to nothing, admit to nothing approach.’ Perhaps this then perpetuates the belief that, rather than critical discussion there is in some senses a reluctance to be seen as contentious? Stifling the need for more forums of debate seems to be held as virtuous on occasions, as cultural changes seem to pervade that everyone is an expert, thus creating environs that some views should be dampened.
A school of openness and critical commentaries should however always prosper and to this end the blogger truly believes PR has a vital role to play. However these ‘voices’ should always be persuasive by intent, whether they are heard either, as the self-rampant publicist, or the ‘Victor Meldrew grumpy old man’ protagonist.
Perhaps a good summation of the thoughts on these PR perceptions, together with the values or morality of ‘Spin’, is best argued by the Victorian philosopher John Stuart Mill who argued that ‘Truth is what is left after public argument’.
The fiction is probably the natural outcome of society demanding ‘a good news story’-maybe?
*A Bailey (2004) Journal of Marketing Communications Volume 10, Issue 3,This company sucks.com: the use of the Internet in negative consumer‐to‐consumer articulations pp 169-182 Published online: 17 May 2010 Taylor & Francis
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alan J Seymour is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing & Public Relations at Northampton Business School, The University of Northampton.
Alan has spent many years in teaching, lecturing and media management and is currently engaged in research in Sports Management, Marketing & PR, Social Media, as well as authoring chapter in latest edition of Sports Marketing 4th edition by Mullin, Hardy & Sutton (2014).
Alan also has an innate interest in Education with a research portfolio in Teaching and Learning Management programmes together with a focus on professional practice, as well as recently being voted in the top 100 marketing Professors on Twitter. He will be presenting a keynote paper-“Fandom & Followers” on Sport & Social Media -at the forthcoming EASM (European Association of Sport Management) conference in September 2014.