So I was having a conversation with a guy at the bar last night. If I’m honest I had quite a lot to drink at this point but then British history is built upon alcohol and other questionable substances.
The guy I spoke to, called Alec, is taking an illustration degree and decided to focus on political comics for his assignment. Unfortunately the only two political structures he was familiar with was Fascism and Nihilism. Even though I don’t know much politics he asked me a few questions and he even requested for my email address encase he had more during the week.
We got into conversation about how influences effect the decisions we make. The technical term of the stance he took would be hard determinism. However, he went a step further. He started talking about how even the existential occurrences of nature could affect our very essence. With this I had to disagree and refer to how it is definitely the empirical nature of events which shape us. Existential happenings are beyond our reach which we can only explain through theories and evidence. The existence of evidence then makes our views of existential events plausible, it is the empirical which can only be labelled as the truth. Anything beyond this has to be taken as a value of faith, including any scientific theories which are purely logical in thought and currently lack physical evidence.
Anyway, this discussion relates very well with how Public Relations operates. In PR’s simplest form the communication of a particular message is the focus. However this message has to be taken from a value of faith. There are very few messages where PR can attain the benefit of empirical evidence to prove a certain point. The only industry which comes to my mind where PR could provide evidence is in regards to health and safety. The harmful effects of tobacco can be communicated referring back to scientific discoveries. This is unlike the messages from an organisation wishing to promote a certain product. Fair enough, a certain shampoo could have evidence to show benefits over competitors but the effort is futile in some ways since the effects are judged personally.
Let’s go back to determinism. A good PR campaign seems to be built around the structure of soft determinism. A message is communicated to your audience in the hope that you will influence them into some sort of action. Personally I’m not even sure if I can find an example of hard determinism. That theory seems to outstretch the power which PR has, besides, I’m sure the ethical line would be over stepped if it were possible to absolutely control the actions of individuals. Besides, Philosophy usually asks “Are we being controlled”. Lectures in PR have told us that most PR campaigns purely focus upon the ability to shout a message out to the various publics. I can’t help but think that if somehow soft determinism was considered then a PR message would be that little bit more powerful.
The trick is to think of a PR campaign which can influence individuals to make an action of some sort based on a message.
To refer back to the man I spoke to last night. He believed that PR professionals were liars, or at least they twisted a message for a specific goal. This is a common misunderstanding which many have with the industry but soft determinism would remove this immoral accusation.
Since soft determinism recognises that individuals have their own freewill it removes any elements of control from PR. A person should and has the ability to act in any manner they like but the messages from PR cannot be to blame for the individual’s actions. We all have the ability to make decisions from what we empirically observe from the world around us. Even though I know smoking is harmful I still do it. Let’s remove the fact nicotine is a highly addictive drug and instead focus on that first decision. The first time I smoked a cigarette I was fully aware of possible consequences but my own freedom dismissed the messages being communicated to me. A lack of wisdom on my part but completely separate from any health conscious PR campaign. The PR campaign is shouting at me, “Think This!”, but instead I thought “That”. It is true that different people have degrees of susceptibility to messages.
So now I apologise profusely to anybody who works within the advertising industry. There is a problem with advertising, there is no meat behind the message, no justifications. In an advertisement’s simplest form it is comic and occasionally there is a specific message. I would imagine most people to agree that word of mouth is the best method of promotion. Behind that message there is trust, justification and testimony. Only conversations can obtain these values which is why PR has more worth and deserves to have more money spent into it. Really it is a question of imitation, a television commercial is only one way communication and the same applies to posters or billboards. PR allows for conversation, this is how the industry works and why it is flourishing in this current age.
We live in a digital world. This very article of mine allows for two way communication with ability to post comments. It may be asymmetric in nature but this detaches it as any fascist overall message which adds to its moral worth.
Ultimately both industries require to influence the opinion of the masses. The Catholic Church didn’t help when they coined the word “Propaganda”, further degraded by Joseph Goebbels. Negative connotations are rife when talking of influence. This is just the point with soft determinism, we are all influenced by something. Nobody lives inside a bubble, we have thousands of messages penetrating our minds every day. We all still make decisions and most of them could be influenced by things we have empirically observed.
So why does the PR industry have dishonesty attached to it? Perhaps the advertising industry should be questioned since their messages are absolute. Although these questions may have already started. I’m sure it is more than just the economic problems causing the advertising industry to crumble. No doubt advertising still has a place in the world but times change and so do industries.