As Nietzsche struggled to promote in the XIX century, to understand the true nature of a given phenomenon you need to go back to its origins.
Thus, if we want to understand what a PR counsel's role should be, I am compelled to recall the studies of the first PR pioneer in human history: Edward Bernays.
In his most famous studies Crystallizing Public Opinion and Propaganda, he spent most of his attention not on the overall role of PR but on the statutory role of the PR counsel.
To understand his thoughts we need to clarify that the studies mentioned above were released in 1923 and 1928 respectively, more or less 30 years after the publication of The Crowd by Gustave Le Bon, the first study on the so-called popular mind and the real beginning of a new subject of studies: social psychology.
We were just at the beginning of the rise of mass media that, at the time, were considered magazines, newspapers, and radio.
Nowadays, apart from the huge amount of professionals who operate in the market with complete awareness of what their real job is, in the PR industry there is the trend to generally recognise the duty of the PR counsel as being just an intermediary between those who have the need for coverage and those who can give them the coverage they need, the media.
However, this is a distortion of the real and original role of the PR counsel, and it is the direct result of a topic that during the years has become more and more inflated.
When everyone is talking about something that has become public domain, that something soon becomes common sense, which, for a reasonable professional, is to be considered the enemy of all enemies.
There is nothing farther from the truth than an opinion with no fundamentals.
What is funny is that the less someone understands a topic, the more they seem to have an opinion on it: you can observe this regarding political, ethical, or social issues; and unfortunately, even the professional world has plenty of gurus who are spreading around false expertise or rearranging ideas of others and promoting them as if they were theirs without quoting the source.
They are usually spin doctors with an opinion about everything.
Thus forgetting one of the cornerstone rules of branding:
WHO IS EVERYWHERE IS NOWHERE.
Professionally speaking, avoiding any approximation on the real role of the PR counsel is paramount to making sure that the average PR customer, with little knowledge concerning branding through PR, might have the chance to better select the best partner to be in business with in the medium-long term.
Who is the real PR COUNSEL, then?
According to Edward Bernays,
The public relations counsel, then, is the agent who, working with modern media of communication and the group of formations of society, brings an idea to the consciousness of the public. But he is a great deal more than that. He is concerned with courses of action, doctrines, systems and opinions, and the securing of public support for them.1
Thus, considering the premise, his role is creating pictures in the mind2 of an audience, which can change our mental pictures of the world3.
How can the PR counsel create mental pictures in the audience he is targeting?
Edward Bernays states that a real PR counsel is characterised by two attributes that refer to a specific psychological attitude and a set of well defined skills:
What does it mean to be a student of the public mind using the contemporary marketing terminology?
Basically, it means that you must scientifically know your target, how it thinks, why it thinks what it thinks, etc…
Indeed, using Edward Bernays words:
“The mental equipment of the average individual consists of a mass of judgments on most of // the subjects which touch his daily physical or mental life. These judgments are the tools of his daily being and yet they are his judgments, not on a basis of research and logical deduction, but for the most part dogmatic expressions accepted on the authority of his parents, his teachers, his church, and of his social, his economic and other leaders.”5
Thus, being aware of
“The tendency the group has to standardize the habits of individuals and to assign logical reasons for them is an important factor in the work of the public relations counsel”6
“after examination of the sources of established beliefs, must either discredit the old authorities or create new authorities by making articulate a mass opinion against the old belief or in favour of the new.”7
You may ask:
What kind of authorities are you talking about if my company produces orange juice?
Unless you created a particular niche, in any market niche there is a well established authority who is making more profits than anyone else because its name is attached to that particular category.
It’s incredible how Edward Bernays indirectly discovered what Al Ries, the most renowned brand expert on the planet, figured out dozens of years later.
To eradicate old authorities and position yourself as a new one, an entrepreneur must rely on a PR counsel which will broadcast his message through different channels.
Let’s use Al and Laura Ries's words in The Origin of Brands:
“When a brand can make the news, it has a chance to generate publicity. And the best way to make news is simple. Announce a new category and not just a new product. The news media wants to talk about what’s new, what’s first, and what’s hot.”8
Thus, using always Ries's categories, the scientific work of the PR counsel has two main aims:
“People want to buy what is conventional. In other words, people want to buy what other people are buying. In general, they don’t want to be seen as unconventional.”9
This gives us the chance to reaffirm my definition of PR professional (or counsel):
A PR professional is a brand expert who can get you coverage where you need to be when you need to be there.
A PR professional is someone whose biggest concern is to help you scale in a slow build-up process of media coverage, and he will act in this way:
These three steps above clearly demonstrate why a PR consultancy firm should be as specialised as possible.
They need to master your market in terms of both knowing the players and knowing the groups and subgroups that represents the target of the niche you are referring to. PR is your hidden weapon, the key for the gate of your gold mine of profit.
Don’t mess up with PR.
Most importantly, to conclude with a quote by Nietzsche, do not let the wrong PR counsel shout up your dreams forever, while on your grave the same PR counsel will chant the following rhyme:
«Gott ist tot! Gott bleibt tot! Und wir haben ihn getötet!»
(«God is dead! God is dead! And we have killed him!»)
1Edward Bernays, Propaganda (New York: Horace Liveright, 1928), p. 38.
2Ibid., p. 25
3Ibid., p. 26
4Edward Bernays, Crystallizing Public Opinion (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923), p.53
5Ibid., p. 61-62
6Ibid., p. 105
7Ibid., p. 68
8Al Ries and Laura Ries, The Origin of Brands (New York: HarperBusiness, 2004), p. 274
9Ibid., p. 272
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