A response to Taking Sides – Clashing Views in Mass Media and Society – Issue 16
Although this chapter asks if public relations practitioners provide a service to the public, James Lukaszewski’s essay does not address the topic but instead gives tips about how to do PR better. Stuart Ewen’s essay says that PR has swung between responding to public demands and trying to control the public and is now a tool used by those with wealth to keep it.
Lukaszewski’s essay, originally a speech to end a two-week seminar on PR, could just as easily apply to a seminar of secretaries or dentists. It’s just a list of platitudes to make one more effective at what one is doing. His seven are: be constructive, be positive, be prompt, be outcome-focused, be reflective, and be pragmatic. He says this will help one become transformational but I’m not sure that necessarily applies to transforming public opinion through mass media but rather transforming your own business or job performance.
Ewen begins with a short history of PR, beginning around 1900 when large companies had to face an informed public and build up confidence in free market business. It later changed to a matter of convincing or tricking the masses into doing what corporations wanted, though after World War II it went back and forth between these two goals. Because of the social movements of the 1960s, PR moved away from toeing the party line and began advocating companies encourage different perspectives and groups, targeting African Americans, for example. This has shifted now from advocating participatory democracy to studying and targeting special demographics. Ewen says this can be divisive and that PR has helped corporations dismantle welfare capitalism. Lately PR has become much more pervasive and demographics have identified and cordoned off minorities. Ewen’s closing section points out that PR is most often used by those with all the wealth to perpetuate themselves.
These essays were a pretty weak look at the issue. The first one was nothing but an inspirational speaker who could have been talking to any profession and the second only got to a real point near the end. Also, this seems like a silly question. Does PR provide a service? Of course-to the company who hired the PR people. Does it provide a service to the public or boost democracy? Probably not, but it was never meant to. Ewen touches on part of the problem right at the end of his essay-PR serves those with mass media access and money to hire them with, i.e. the elites and large corporations. The only place a public service could enter into this is if the PR is for a non-profit or other group working for the public interest.