Public Relations and Reality…
I was visiting a website the other day and began thinking about the difference between public relations and reality.
Public relations is the business of managing information to create a set of ideas in the minds of other people. It can be done in many ways. Television, YouTube, newspapers, newsletters, blogs, Facebook and Twitter are all media-based public relations tools. Arranging for “the right person to talk to the right person” is public relations. Arranging for “the right people to be in the room” is a form of public relations.
Public relations is the business of finding ways to have other people see things as you think they should. Public relations is creating an intentional image of perceived reality by people who benefit when a person thinks a certain way.
Reality is another matter. Finding out what is real comes from:
- Being willing to be where people are and looking and listening,
- Being willing to talk with and learn from people who don’t see things the same way you do,
- Finding ways to get beyond the aura of public relations that surround an organization or a person or an idea.
A friend of ours named John McKnight drew a little picture on a big piece of chart paper for us about 25 years ago. The picture starts with a large triangle. At the top of the triangle he put the words “Board of Directors and CEO” and then he drew a series of little boxes connected by dotted and solid lines and wrote “ Levels of Bureaucratic Management.” Down at the very inside bottom of the triangle he drew a picture of several people and wrote “Hands-On Staff” and then he drew pictures of lots and lots of people under the triangle and he wrote “Clients/Consumers/Customers.”
John said, “The purpose of middle of the triangle is to manipulate information as it goes up the triangle. The higher up information goes, the harder it is to know if it’s true. Every time you arrange, through citizen advocacy, to have someone with social power come into real relationship with someone who is pushed to the bottom of the social structure, you are challenging the perceived reality that is created by bureaucratic management and public relations.”
If you are a citizen advocate, you know what I am talking about here. I welcome your thoughts.
It might be interesting to google John McKnight from Northwestern University and begin to see some of the other ideas John has offered over the past 40 years.