In Torino, early July, at the World Architects Conference -in the context of a workshop organised by Ferpi, Assorel (the Italian agency association) and the Global Alliance on how public relators and architects might better work together to reduce the more negative effects on society of the nimby (not in my back yard) and banana (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anyone) syndromes-
Romanian colleague Liviu Muresan, Ceo of Risc Foundation and security communication consultant to many major international organizations, stunned participants by delivering unprecedented data and projections on what metropolitan area public policy makers expect in terms of social unrest and violence in all those megacities mushrooming all over the world, but more prominently in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In London (UK), mid June, at the World Public Relations Festival –and in the context of a session dedicated to Public Diplomacy– Nabil Ayad, Director of the London Diplomatic Academy at the University of Westminster, focussed his remarks on the concept of geo-fear describing it as the new buzzword which will guide global as well as local public diplomacy efforts in the years to come.
Again in Italy, last Sunday of July, Ilvo Diamanti, one of our most respected social scholars and researchers, published on daily La Repubblica a chilling summary of his research on ‘fear’, indicated as the most challenging new sentiment which has overtaken the Italian population in recent years.
I could go on and on to argue that the concept of fear is having substantial, horizontal and durable impact on our day to day activities, more than ever before, and that we, as public relators, must take a good second look at this phenomenon.
My first thought goes to the fact that public relations is supposedly to assist organizations in improving their relationships with influential publics….. and that this global pandemia of fear does not indicate that we have been doing a great job….. as it is clear that improved relationships imply more harmony, dialogue, conversations, understanding, negotiation and what have you…
Ah…. one might say…. so it is not so true that public relations impact the public interest as much as you constantly claim!
I wish this was so….
Unfortunately, I will instead argue the many of our activities, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, help to increase fear, distrust and deception in society.
Let me explain.
Political, economic and social uncertainty, fear and indecision induce (in organizations, as well as in publics) a spiral of depression, aspiration to order and, when this order doesn’t promptly come, anger and violence.
Naturally, any reasonable subject wishing to responsibly attempt to govern the issue, should be doing everything possible to avoid the anger and violence, by weakening the aspiration to order, and curing the depression.
Starting from this highly generic but necessary premise –and in parallel with the awareness that our work supposedly contributes to orienting opinions, behaviours and decisions of publics- the next step for a public relator would be to analyse the whole array of her/his present and planned activities from the perspective of the foreseeable consequences these have or will have on this new plague-in-town called the fear syndrome.
One specific example:
if any specific content I am to deliver in direction of my publics is bound to increase fear…I do not necessarily suggest self censure, but I do suggest a careful evaluation in order to avoid unnecessary and harmful overspill of alarm, which is often driven by a natural desire to hit the headlines in order to attract the attention also of publics who are not primary.
Clearly, if I have a choice between inducing fear or joy, and I select the former only because mainstream media prefers one to the other, then my responsibility definitely increases.
Once more, I am not suggesting we necessarily go against the current, counting on a sudden conversion from an ailing and ever more commercialized media system …but as we say this we must also acknowledge that public relations has been a substantial pusher of this media disease.
Here there is a good reason to make a special creative effort to create new spaces for different contents to attract the attention of our publics, beyond and besides mainstream media.
We must be able to prove to our clients/employers that in many cases, although admittedly not in all, this approach is more effective, ok maybe more time consuming, but overall generally less expensive and in any case better for our client/employer’s as well our profession’s licence to operate..
Your opinions? Other examples?