Politics of PR; PR for Politics?

Since I’m working/looking for a new job/trying to graduate/doing my best to be a decent human being, I don’t often get the opportunity to discuss politics with academics whom I respect, so today’s chat with a former professor was a welcome deviation from the norm. Though much of the conversation revolved around our respective life activities (and thus wouldn’t be interesting to Dear Reader), there was one thing mentioned which I think is a good question for American society at-large.

In recounting the various ways in which the financial meltdown and subsequent government actions were framed in the “relevant” discourses (i.e., the media and the 2008/2010 political campaigns), I opined that those who support(ed) drastic measures to ensure (admittedly relative) stability have utterly lost the public relations battle to the reactionaries who oppose(d) such actions. To this my professor friend agreed and added that, for better or worse, much of our politics and discourse in this country often breaks down to public relations and marketing. It is less about who can best lead us into tomorrow, and rather about who can best appeal to our fleeting consumer sensibilities.

Yes, my friend is an avowed Marxist philosopher in a society that venerates anything “market-based.” But I do not believe that undermines his critique. In fact, I rather think it supports such a conclusion – however broad it may be – because our reverence for the system too often induces us to be uncritical of the system.

But for the time being, the system looks like it’s here to stay. So, the question I now pose is this: how can we use the system to reform or recreate the system? Can the tools of marketing and public relations be appropriated for a higher purpose than merely electing candidates who reflect the “public” opinion or giving power and influence to those who pander to our fears and anxieties?

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    • kl
    • November 3rd, 2010

    we recently discussed marxist theory in classical sociological theory.and (full disclosure), i am a neo-marxist.but anyway, from a contemporary perspective of society, others were skeptical of whether or not we will truly be able to utilize the ‘tools’ of media that the bourgeoisie have given us. i am not as skeptical.

    as i voiced in class, i think the key is for grass roots organizations to take hold of these technological tools and promote themselves accordingly. in some ways this had already been done. i would argue that many independent news sources, grassroots orgs, etc. have a considerable following. it’s a matter of joining those forces into something more coherent. after becoming more cohesive, perhaps, they could take the attention from mainstream media sources. maybe then issues would be considered rather than points of attack.

    • kellystonebock
    • November 3rd, 2010

    Ah yes. Evil marketing and evil marketers. Look, we stopped blatantly urging you to smoke and drink all the time … wait, ok, just the smoking part. What more could you ask?

    Actually, the game is always going to be a personality contest. Have we refined our marketing game? Yes. But PR/marketing was always involved because people are social creatures who size up the people in front of them. It’s like when Nixon refused makeup against studly Kennedy who glowed of charisma and L’Oréal. People still took cues from what they saw. After all, they say over half of communication is nonverbal.

    Let’s -for a brief moment- acknowledge the incredible benefits of a strong marketing strategy. Talk to anyone who is in marketing and PR (who keeps current) and they’ll tell you that in fact, there’s a shift towards transparency thanks to social media. Have you seen The White House blog? It’s badass. Yep, that’s right- badass. Half of it is just video of what the President has been doing THAT DAY. They do live streams all the time in which you can watch what’s happening in the East Room of The White House or wherever else they have the camera crew stationed.

    Sure, everyone in the room is a paid actor who is pushing the evil press secretary’s agenda, but it makes for good entertainment. (sarcasm mark here)

    Also, through Twitter and other facets of the President’s extensive social media presence, The White House is empowering normal people. On Mondays, tweet a question with a certain hashtag and members of the staff sift through submissions to address what people want to know. Sure, they may be selective in what they answer, but it’s a move forward from a cheesy calculated campaign ad to a more genuine interaction. Also, The White House leaves all of their content up for grabs so that it is easily embedded into your blog, an unusual trait for an organization that is pushing out such a controlled message.

    My point is this. Marketing is forever entwined in politics just as it’s entwined in everything from consumer products to scoring you a date on Friday night. Instead of bemoaning how tragic and unpure the system has become, let’s figure out how to use these tools to better discuss the oh-so-holy political policies that the Sam Seaborns of the world are creating.

    • Kelly,

      Your point is acknowledged, and we are pretty much in agreement on the final point.

      I do not blame marketing for being marketing. It is a reflection of our society rather than a cause. My (admittedly quite generalized) point is that our campaigns/elections are too often merely the sum of marketing strategies, rather than real inquiries into the meaning and implications of candidates’ platforms.

      While there are enormous potential benefits from the benevolent application of marketing principles, at least in our politics, I don’t yet see that happening.

      Your points are valid, so I must rephrase my original question: Can we use marketing to go beyond marketing? And how do we do so? 🙂

    • kellystonebock
    • November 3rd, 2010

    Also, another word for unpure is impure. I just chose to go with the urban dictionary version.

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