Language, culture and PR

Although PR people are constantly trying to shape cultures – both community and corporate – with language it is striking how often they just focus on trying to use language to shape the culture rather than considering the complex inter-relationships between the two.

In all human societies throughout history language has been shaped by culture while language has also shaped the culture. Far too often, in internal communications for instance, PR people fail to notice a massive disconnect between the messages they are trying to communicate and the meanings conferred on those messages by the culture in which they are delivered. The simplest examples are always around messages about change, downsizing and so on – the listeners know it is bad news for them irrespective of the spin the PR staff put on them at the direction of management. read more

Irony and/or paradox?

It seems to be a great irony or paradox that, at a time when corporate communicators are preaching the virtues of apologies when things go wrong, Right wing political communicators are preaching the virtues of ne regrette rien.

Equally, it is odd that at a time when some of the world’s most successful companies are becoming more and more like universities used to be, universities are becoming more and more like very old-fashioned companies. read more

Kissinger and Orwell were right

Whatever you think of Henry Kissinger (and reading Christopher Hitchens book The Trial of Henry Kissinger suggests war crimes might be part of the thinking process) he did have a great way with quotes. For instance: Power is the great aphrodisiac and; best of all, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean you’re not being persecuted (or have enemies in various attributions). Equally quotable, and one of the great English stylists as well as a towering moral force, George Orwell, made vivid the persecution which comes with all-seeing surveillance. read more

Robotic reporters

The threat to the newspaper industry might be at an end. Unfortunately for some in the media the solution seems to be the replacement of journalists with algorithms which create news stories.

The algorithms have been developed by a US company, Narrative Science, which produces computer-written news stories. The development was first talked about in Wired last year ( ) but it now appears the product is becoming more successful. In a post, Ray Kurzweil (a remarkable author, inventor, innovator and futurist) has updated how it is going. ( . read more

Online reputation management in China

Online reputation management (see this blog 18/3/2013) is now being used in China – although the government isn’t too keen on it and the users seem to have slightly different motivations to those who seek to clean up their online footprint in other countries.

In a culture where face (which is sort of like reputation) is all-important it is perhaps not surprising that people worry about new threats to their reputation and new ways of losing face. Now an enterprising company has stepped in to exploit these concerns. read more

Revealing communication hiccups

Almost every communication program is affected by some small hiccup or other. Most of them are just minor unless they inadvertently highlight a major public relations problem an organisation is experiencing.

This week saw Opera Australia have a minor hiccup – an error in an email broadcast to Melbourne opera subscribers – which highlighted one of the major complaints Victorians have about Opera Australia, its Sydney-centric focus and its relative neglect of Melbourne. read more

Media secretaries

There is a common assumption that political media advisers are a modern invention but, although the quantity of them is at levels never before known, they have actually been around for a long time.

Reading an excellent essay by Ruth Starke on Don Dunstan in the March Australian Book Review I was struck by her assertion that “It is arguable whether any (sic) politician in Australia had a public relations officer on staff in 1965” in the context of Dunstan’s appointment of a young David Combe as an adviser. Ruth Starke describes David as a ‘public relations officer’ although one imagines that David would have been the combination of strategist, party operator, media adviser and many other things he was during much of his career. read more

Making sense

Public relations academic writing is, so far, mercifully free of the excruciating prose of many social sciences, literary theories and other sources of incomprehensible and impenetrable thought even if it does follow what someone once described as the ‘barbaric’ social sciences referencing and bibliographic systems. read more

Think tanks and transparency

The Americanisation of Australian politics is exemplified by the growing number of think tanks here – although thankfully so far some Australian ones are generally more transparent and more independent than their US counterparts.

The Institute of Public Affairs 70th anniversary dinner (the blog didn’t attend and wasn’t invited) is an example of the problems which can arise. Personally, despite being opposed to much IPA thinking, I find many of their ideas interesting and worthy of debate. Director, John Roskam, presents some interesting ideas in between the ideologically-driven stuff (such as his AFR columns at the start of the GFC calling for dramatic cutbacks in government spending) and Chris Berg has some challenging thoughts about the nanny state and the health thought police. However, the IPA doesn’t disclose details of donors or supporters so, when they publish a viewpoint on some issue or other, you can’t check whether someone who might benefit from it helped make it possible. This is not to suggest that the IPA colours its views to that of its donors but rather to highlight the fact that the general policy of disclosure of interests practised in most media outlets and academic journals is not followed by the IPA. That general policy is simply a matter of transparency. read more

Not just the employees

It has now been well-established by research that people who watch Fox News in the US are more likely to be wrong about things more often than those who don’t.

This is not suggesting that the relationship is causal as it might be a matter of people who are likely to be wrong on things choosing to watch Fox News rather than Fox News promulgating the errors. Or, of course, it could also be a bit of both. read more