The politicization of PR
May 02, 2016
A story in today's Wall Street Journal lifted the veil on a disturbing trend -- some political operatives are bringing their bare knuckle tactics to the business world.
According to the Journal, for example, "America Rising, the unofficial research arm of the Republican Party, has launched a for-profit venture aimed at helping companies, trade associations and wealthy individuals push back against detractors and navigate sensitive shareholder or public-policy fights."
Its Democratic counterpart, American Bridge, says it isn’t looking to do private-sector work, but admitted to doing work for public policy allies like Planned Parenthood. One wonders if the next steps won't be trade associations, followed quickly by corporate lobbyists and then the rest of the C-suite.
As The Donald would say, "Not good."
CEOs have been enamored with the techniques of political campaigning ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, who was the most CEO-like politician to occupy the White House. But Reagan's communications techniques were relatively benign: message discipline, repetition, controlled appearances with dramatic backdrops, policy framed in homey anecdotes, etc.
Today's political operatives are decidedly more rough and tumble, whose stock in trade is compiling dossiers on opponents’ vulnerabilities and finding ways to exploit them without leaving fingerprints.
I can't do better than Tim Penning, a professor of public relations, who posted this in the Journal's comment section:
"... implicit in 'opposition research' is the underhanded use of ad hominem attacks on those with alternative views and agendas. It damages the civility of debate and robs the public of the ability to make genuinely informed decisions, which is the moral role of public relations in society. In the end, as negative practice becomes common, it will damage all companies' reputations."
To which I say, "Amen."