Madmen for M.E
Ive written critically and at length, both on another blog and on the PR forums about what I see as the failings of M.E/CFS advocacy and about the attitudes that underwrite those failings. Not surprisingly other posters have complained that I dont offer what seem to them to be effective alternatives, my response to those complaints is, that if theres no agreement about what the problem is, or even that a problem exists, then proposing something different is pointless. This is the start of an attempt to set some context, identify the big issues and suggest some approaches that might achieve a consensus amongst a coalition of the willing on a way forward for the effective presentation of M.E/CFS issues to audiences that actually matter.
Some basic concepts:
The Audience the body of people ( anything from 1 person to 1 billion) that has to be addressed to achieve the marketer, seller, lobbyist, politicians objective
The message both the overarching principle(s) and any targeted fact, position, belief, concept etc that a marketer, seller, lobbyist, politician etc wants to convey to an audience. Can be anything from this sugary cereal will make your children strong to stop this war or more money is needed on road maintenance in Poughkeepsie.
The messenger the message creator.
Message support combination of practical elements provided by the messenger to certain audiences (photographs, interviewees etc), and ideological appeal written into the message itself.
Message management/control setting the terms in which the message is presented, and preventing it from being hijacked or represented by competing interests.
Those whom the Gods would destroy:
Public Relations, which may include, but is not directly equal to, marketing, advertising, promotion and selling, can be defined in one simple term the manipulation of perception, something which, as with prestidigitation is at its most effective when achieved invisibly. Politics can be considered as a specialised form of PR, where manipulation of perception is replaced by a more pragmatic process: the motivation of bias. The key quality of all PR is the establishment of trust, the audience must believe in the validity of the message (and in consequence the messenger) that is being conveyed. This audience belief is far easier to achieve when (at least within a given perspective) the message is true manipulation of perception need not of itself be deception, although though the two can in given circumstances be equivalent. Whilst having a truthful message is pragmatically desirable, PR is not about truth in any absolute sense, PR operates in wholly relativist terms. Polarising activities and arguments are usually avoided in PR unless a very specific objective is sought, even then great caution has to be exercised because control of the message is easily lost. Fundamentalists of almost any kind are usually hopeless at PR because the rigidity of their own position inhibits any sense of flexibility in others, it is engagement with the flexibility of the audience which PR is most concerned with. Excepting of course where the engagement of the fundamentalist on a fundamentalist issue is concerned, but we are then in Joseph Goebbels and territory.
Effective PR depends upon an understanding of who is to be addressed who is that that the marketer, seller, lobbyist, politician etc, needs to influence to achieve the change (increased customer loyalty, increased sales, redirected government spending, increased approval rating etc) that supports the marketer, seller, lobbyist or politicians ambitions. For example when a PR operation produces a media release, it might be assumed that the release is written in terms that will engage the final audience comprised of the newspaper reader, radio listener or TV viewer. For a media release to be effective it is not the final audience for which it is written, and although any media release will contain key images, text tags and hooks that will hopefully be re-broadcast by the media to its audiences, the release itself must be written for the journalists who the PR professional is seeking to motivate to facilitate the broadcast. It is not necessary for a journalist to have any belief in the validity of the PR message but the journalist must believe both in the authority of the messenger, and that the message has value in attracting reader/listener/viewer attention.
There are circumstances where dependence on a re-broadcast is not involved; politicians, administrators, professional bodies and other institutions can all usually be addressed directly. These are however very challenging audiences, they have numerous competing demands placed upon them, they are usually very PR aware, often being practitioners themselves, all of which requires that PR messages addressed to these audiences require high levels of message support.
Additionally there is mass advertising where the audience is also addressed directly, although cost and necessary sophistication of a mass advertised message provide major limitations on who can utilise it as a communication medium.
It is a truism that PR is not about truth and in consequence the PR message can not be treated as though it will stand up as if it were tablets of stone. The very process of engaging in PR of itself opens the message to scepticism in all but the most well predisposed audiences. Effective PR involves identifying the audience that is required to be addressed, crafting a message that engages that audience and supporting that message with demonstrable advantage to that audience. In the case of a media release where the audience is comprised of journalists, supporting advantage comes in a number of forms: ease of translation to article or programme segment format, accessibility of textual imagery, availability and quality of graphic imagery, availability of quotable sources etc. In short, the supporting advantage for journalists is how easy the media release publisher makes the journalists job. Similar message support applies to audiences comprised of administrators and public servants who may have the task of translating the message for consumption by others such as experts or politicians. When addressing exerts or politicians directly the supporting advantage must be evident within the message itself - it must demonstrate why adopting this message as their own, will confer advantage to the individual audience member.
Advantage and Trust:
Successful PR depends upon the audience having trust in the presenter of the message the success of a re-broadcast message is dependant on trust in the broadcaster by the reader , listener or viewer. For the messenger there is little control over the broadcasters relationship with the reader , listener or viewer, and management of the message is difficult to maintain. Trust is vital in direct communication between messenger and audience an audience soon learns to distrust any source that shows inconsistency, confusion or dissemblement The issue of trust is doubly the case where advantage is concerned for example journalists who expect to have a media release accompanied by access to authoritative interviewees, but who are instead provided with only media unfriendly contacts will quickly put a block on future contact with the messenger. An administrator, professional or politician supplied with ineffective, inaccurate or prejudiced material will cease to be available to listen and any public official or politician will become permanently unavailable where the messenger is associated with illegality or scandal. Authority and consistency are vital attributes of an effective PR process.
Life ain't fair
All of the above provide rigid limitations on what can be effectively achieved by whom, there is no democracy involved, nor entitlement other than can be (in some circumstances) bought. The audience must be understood and addressed in its terms not the terms the messenger would prefer, the messenger must be credible, the message has to be meaningful to the audience, the message must be well supported and it must convey advantage and elicit trust from the audience. All of which makes the current position of 'PR for M.E/CFS' a mamoth task that can only be begun by hoisting the image of M.E/CFS 'representation' out of a largely self inflicted chasm of dubious credibility.
When PR means Public Relations, not a mythical rebirth part one
Blog entry posted by In Vitro Infidelium, Sep 14, 2011.