Too bad Ed Bernays, the so-called father of PR, didn’t spend some time writing a definition of public relations. Instead he gained his reputation, at least in part, by planning publicity stunts like the one that encouraged generations of women to begin committing suicide by cigarette — as Vonnegut said, referring to his own addiction. And gee. Was Bernays in this instance practicing public relations at all?
Maybe. Maybe not. I’m not sure I can define public relations. But I have a number of views about it. Here’s one. Advertising and marketing can alter your view of reality. After all, Pepsi is only colored sugar water and a dream. And Starbucks isn’t about coffee. It’s about creating a community of dilettantes willing to stand in the queue for an unlimited time to buy an over-priced honey latte. But I digress. Public relations, if done ethically, can only in the long run reflect reality. It can’t save Bear Stearns from pathetic mismanagement. And it can’t enhance a country’s (or an organization’s) reputation unless it’s justified — and true.
Here’s what got me thinking about this. As I was running on the treadmill this morning, the talking head on TV opined that China was heading for a public relations disaster. Oh, my. It appears that the Olympic Torch didn’t advance from square one in Greece yesterday before protesters jumped up to criticize China’s current actions in Tibet. Something tells me it’s going to be a long road to Beijing and the Summer Games.
Is this really a public relations problem? Or is it a problem involving the Chinese government and people who don’t really believe that China is as open and free as officials would like the rest of the world to believe? The Beijing Olympics, after all, were intended to showcase China to the world. Well here come protests — government restrictions — and dare I say it: reality. Good luck to the PR guys and gals.
So now, if you are a corporate sponsor of the Olympics, what would you do? Anne Applebaum has an interesting article in Slate that looks at this issue and others: Boycott Beijing: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest.
The article says in part:
“We believe the Olympic Games are not the place for demonstrations and we hope that all people attending the games recognize the importance of this.”
That, according to the article, is the view of Samsung Electronics, one of 12 corporate sponsors. And I agree. Much better to protest at every store in the world selling Samsung products. But, again, I digress. And the sponsors knew what they were getting in to. Did they think they could change reality?
And another aspect of the so-called public relations problem. China, according to an article in The New York Times, has told broadcast officials that it will bar live television shots from Tiananmen Square during the Summer Games. Ouch. NBC , according the The Times article, paid $2.3 billion for rights to broadcast the Olympics in Athens, Turin and Beijing.
The marathon starts in Tiananmen Square. This should be interesting.
NBC declined to comment.
Three press officers with the Olympic organizing committee declined to comment.
Wonder what happens if someone has to clear a body or two from the track before the start of the 4×4 relay?
So China has a public relations problem? Nah. How about a reality problem.
Where’s Ed Bernays when we need him?