Effective PR vs. Modern Terrorism

Effective PR Versus Modern Terrorism
Copyright 2010 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
(Feel free to repost with author attribution. All views my own.)

If it is true that people are “basically good” (as former eBay CEO Meg
Whitman once famously said), then they seek to find good in others as

This may explain why, despite all the news we hear every day about bad
people doing bad things, people still react with disbelief when they
hear about them.

The reality is that some people are, to reverse Whitman’s quote,
“basically bad”—hateful and destructive. It doesn’t matter why, but
they are. But most people, who are good (I agree with Whitman), and
who want to believe in good, can find this hard to believe.

Psychological resistance to the reality of terrorism can be a problem
for the PR specialist who has to combat their propaganda.

If you are a fan of the TV show “24,” as I am, you know what I’m
talking about. To sum up the premise, there is only one man in the
U.S. government – “Jack Bauer” – who has three things: 1) the wisdom
to figure out who the bad people truly are 2) the technical skill to
track them down and “take them out” and most importantly 3) dedication
to doing the right thing regardless of whether it is popular.

From a branding perspective, one of the recurring themes of the show
that I find most interesting is the impact on Jack of his own image.
It is constantly being debated among the characters of the show—is he
a hero or a dangerous, self-interested rogue?

Usually, throughout the season, he suffers from being branded a rogue,
and is punished for doing the right thing—though in the end he is
recognized for the heroism.

To me, the show is compelling because it mirrors what I see from other
sources—news, books, and other fictional media.

First, real heroes generally don’t rely on PR and usually aren’t even
comfortable with it, because to them it smacks of lying when they
would rather believe in “the truth” (as in, “the truth speaks for
itself.”) This approach is exemplified by Clint Eastwood in the movie,
“In the Line of Fire.”

Yet despite this reliance on the truth, they actually they don’t talk
very much about what they do, if at all – because they know it
compromises operational security.

So they are double-bound by their own very logical thinking—and
ultimately ineffective at managing their image—just like a garden hose
doesn’t keep the lawn green if you don’t turn the water on.

Second, we are living in a world where truth is something you create
rather than something that essentially exists. You shape and tell your
own story, and if you don’t other people will tell it for you – a
cardinal rule of PR.

Terrorists understand this very well. They know what it means to tell
a story, and they do not hesitate to manipulate, mislead, or outright
lie if it helps them to portray themselves in a sympathetic way. (This
is not to engage in a political debate over any particular group, only
to describe the tactic.)

A typical example is the well-known tactic of hiding in a civilian
area, or mingling among civilians, and then provoking a bloody
confrontation. Terrorists know that the resulting footage will be
bloody, and that the one who “caused” the blood to be shed will be
seen as the “bad guy,” which gives them an advantage, at least

Further, because terrorists present themselves as sympathetic, they
tend to gain uninformed allies who want to be good and to help the
“victimized.” This kind of alliance makes the terrorists seem
legitimate, because they are “endorsed” by a credible third party –
basic, classic PR.

Not only that, but terrorists use social media freely, and they speak
in the language of their audience – a powerful combination.

Plus they are extremely focused, well-motivated and fast-moving,
whereas non-terrorists tend to lack the same unity and urgency, and to
underestimate the enemy.

If you find the above frightening, you’re not alone—it frightens me, too.

Here are some ideas on combating terrorist propaganda:

1. First and foremost, name them. You can’t fight an enemy you refuse to name.

2. Be even more determined than they are. It’s about survival, not
just communication.

3. Don’t be fooled into thinking you will automatically win just
because you’re “right.”

4. Hit first, and hit hard—don’t play defense.

5. Experiment with social media, even if you flop—course-correct as
needed but never stop talking.

6. Don’t let team egos get in the way – they’re not.

7. Determine in advance how to get the message out without
compromising any secrets—this is truly key.

8. Don’t think that because they’ve won the battle, they’ve won the
war. It’s about persistence over the long term, not a single

9. Don’t let them manipulate you so that you lose your resolve.

10. Work hand in hand with operations so that you are credible to them
as well as to the public. If you don’t understand operational
security, situational needs, and the subject matter, you can’t be
effective in any capacity.

No matter what you do, however, the one basic tenet of PR that always
applies is to tell the truth. It is a misnomer that PR stands for
propaganda—nothing could be further from the truth, because
credibility is the stock in trade of a PR professional, and
credibility rests on telling it.

Ultimately, your job as the PR specialist is to put the focus where it
belongs—on the enemy—to disarm them by exposing their lies, and at the
same time to show the public that your client is doing ethical,
effective work, at maximum capacity, to block terrorists from
achieving their destructive aims.

Posted via email from Think Brand First

BP as a communication failure

I've been watching the people at BP say and appear to do all the right
things about the oil spill and it still doesn't feel right.

A good example occurred the other day on CNN. There was video of the
oil workers charged with the cleanup, sitting around outside looking
kind of disengaged and gesturing to the cameras not to film them.
Meanwhile, local business owners were saying bad things about BP and
its workers. And the BP spokesperson responded earnestly, saying that
if those bad things were happening, the company would look into it and
fix them.

Perfect, perfect PR. That is exactly what I would have told any
company to do when it is accused of wrongdoing.

But when I think about it, something is lacking here. Urgency. The
sense of urgency you get when you know that you did something wrong,
and you really, really have to fix it fast.

Here is a completely minor example in comparison.

One time I was carrying a glass mug full of juice from one room to
another as I tend to do, rather than just sitting down in the kitchen
and drinking it.

Somehow as I was walking I dropped the glass. I saw it go down, hit
the hard marble tile floor, and shatter in a million pieces. Glass

I ran for the paper towels. I wiped it as best I could. I vaccumed up
what was left (that didn't work very well). All the while, I
f-r-e-a-k-e-d out. Because there was glass everywhere, in my home, and
I imagined that someone would step on a piece of the glass and G-d
forbid hurt themselves.

Cleaning up that glass, for me, involved a serious sense of urgency. I
felt it and the people around me felt it. But that sense of urgency is
just not coming from BP.

An odd thing about this whole situation is that I used to really like
BP the brand. I guess this is a year for some of my favorites to fall
apart on the credibility side. Because Toyota was another one I used
to admire.

BP stood for the ability of an organization to take something
seemingly industrial, gross, unlikeable and un-evironmentally friendly
and transform that into a human, friendly face. It was a success story
to me. And I'm not saying their efforts right now are a total failure.
But tack they're currently taking - show calm, seem honest, seem
transparent - is not working.

Perhaps there is still time to turn things around. But what I would
say to BP is, step up the urgency on your communication efforts.
Create a "war room" with glass doors right at the site of the oil
spill. Night and day, let reporters watch what you are doing to fix it
- embed them the way they were embedded with the U.S. troops at war.
Invite the public to provide help in fixing the problem. For G-d's
sake, sponsor a contest or a scholarship!

Do whatever you have to do to communicate (and to act with) the
urgency that this situation demands.

(Please note that all views stated are mine alone and do not represent
those of any agency or organization.)

Posted via email from Think Brand First

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