• The Pepper Shaker

  • June 2011
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The Beating Heart of PR

What makes it go? What makes it tick? What is public relations at its very core, its very center?

If you considered public relations to be an art (which it is), I am pretty sure I’ve discovered the painter’s brush. It’s very fine-tipped and hard to use, but if done correctly you would be able to capture the beauty of business. It came to me in my studies at the University of Sydney.  So far it is one of the most valuable lessons I’ve had so I thought I would share.

The New Public, Leon Mayhew

The insight comes from public relations academic Leon Mayhew, in his book, The New Public. The entire work itself is long. His language is much too verbose for me, but he presents key concepts into public relations that has really opened my vision. The main takeaway of The New Public teaches that most lines of media have been increasingly taken over by communicators and less by the general public. This persuades general opinion towards what communicators are saying, because that is what they see, and then that is what they believe. Hence, the public’s pure opinion is not fairly voiced, and only the opinion of communicators take the lead and create a “new public.”

But that isn’t the best bit.

The most valuable thing I learned pertains to just one part of the book. To my best recollection, the idea is  that the public, your stakeholders, must be able to redeem rhetorical tokens in order for your business to succeed.

Deep, I know! What this means, though, is that everything that public relations and marketing teams put out about their brand must be true and delivered. All of the rhetoric used in the messaging- the emotion, the appeal, the expectations- must actually be delivered when the public responds. If not, your brand becomes a fraud.

Let’s take Disney, for example. What are the things that Disney says about itself? The brand takes you into a fairytale, right? It promises to leave reality behind. It’s brand gives you a feeling of wholesomeness, goodness, and morals. Disney characters are lovable and friendly. The theme parks are magical and tells you it is “the happiest place on Earth.” This is the rhetoric.

People want all those things Disney promises. The public likes those things. They want those things. As they go to Disneyland, they are seeking to redeem those emotional feelings that Disney told them their brand was made of. They want “happiness”, “wholesomeness”, “magic” and “a fairytale.”

The moment guests arrive into the park and see a fairytale castle, the moment they watch Peter Pan characters fighting on pirate ship, or when they take a whirl on a ride is the very moment those rhetorical tokens are redeemed. They got what they were looking for. Disney delivered.

So you can imagine the implications when a company attempts to brand itself as one thing and have customers experience something it is not makes the whole communication the company had with customers false. Imagine expecting an Iphone, in all it’s sleek, chic techno-glory, and when you finally open the box it looks like a piece of frail plastic that crashes whenever you try to use it.

That right there is art of PR. It is being able to create a perfect cycle where PR pros emotionally engage with you, and those emotions are real and sincere when the public responds. Pretty fascinating, I think.


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