CH 9 â€śBattle for Spin: The Public Relations Industryâ€?
When PR emerged in the 1920s it was not seen as a â€śbadâ€? image like it is often associated with today. Like we discussed in class, it is now often thought of as something that is slimy and manipulative, slick or good for an organization in a selfish way. This might be a gross oversimplification, but the question is how far and to whose benefit the push of PR can go to result in honest communication and not manipulation and dishonesty. It is clear that most corporations today are striving to outshine the rest by promoting a green image and telling the world what they do to be environmentally friendly. It is easy to find information all over the media containing environmental policy statements by such companies, but the â€śmajority of companies voluntarily publishing a statement do not commit to most of the specific policiesâ€? (Corbett, 252). Some argue that the status granted to corporations has turned them into the worst kind of citizen, claming the rights but not the responsibilities of citizenship. From what we saw in the video â€śThe Corporationâ€? in class, this seemed to be the take home message as well. Corbett makes reference to the film saying that it shows how companies are made to appear â€śindispensable, responsible for progress and the good life, and as the most efficient from of businessâ€? Now that corporations have the legal status of a natural person, it is difficult to draw the line between what they can and cannot do.
A lot of this chapter reviewed the historical context of the PR industry as we had read in many of the articles â€“ discussing the first PR man P.T. Barnum and Edward Bernays. What I learned that was new from this chapter was the use of â€śgreenwashingâ€? or the â€śdisinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsibly public imageâ€? (Oxford English Dictionary). Basically, messages crafted by PR are what make an organization look eco-friendly, but it is not always easy to discern whether it is true or not. The messages subject to greenwashing are mainly those that come from the organization â€“ anything from websites to brochures to advertisements. Recent environmental image ads can be seen by a wide range of companies including the following: GM, Mobil, Georgia-Pacific, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Dow Chemical. A leading PR figure in all of this is E. Bruce Harrison, who published a book Going Green: How to Communicate Your Companyâ€™s Environmental Commitment in 1993. According to the book he concludes that the key is communication, not action â€“ this definitely leads me to believe that it is important to have a critical eye of what kind of statements you hear in media, particularly regarding environmentalism.
One example that I thought worthy of paying more attention to is the advertising for BP. I know Iâ€™ve seen a lot of advertising for what was once called British Petroleum in recent years. In 2000, the company began a $200 million â€śrebrandingâ€? campaign, replacing its traditional logo with the green and yellow sunburst that is so prevalent today. Its name was shortened to BP and dubbed â€śBeyond Petroleumâ€? and has centered its campaign around â€śputting some sun into your lifeâ€? by installing solar panels in 200 gas stations around the world. This has all been in its effort to reach the environmentally friendly customer and has also promoted many other changes like deep water drilling technology, pipeline construction, and reducing its carbon footprint. What consumers donâ€™t know is that despite all of this, it spends â€śten thousand more on oil exploration and developmentâ€? than it does for â€śevery sixteen dollarsâ€? spend on solar energy. It should not come as a shock that many, if not most, other major corporations follow a similar pattern.
Sometimes it is difficult to imagine that this is true or come to accept it, especially after wanted to believe that most companies really do care. On the other hand, it is more important to come to the realization that perhaps federal regulations need to be put into place to restrict this kind of greenwash advertising. While there is nothing implicitly wrong with PR or its strategies and tactics, there have been examples of unethical practices in all sectors of advertising. Even the words Amy Goodman come to mind when I read this quote from the chapter, â€śWith a fair and engaged discussion of all the viewpoints, we would logically and eventually arrive at good solutionsâ€? (278). Her points were critical of the way media is portrayed in war, but I think her main message was that we never see the other side of that portrayal and that is a major reason citizens lack the knowledge of what else is going on in war. Whatâ€™s most important is that both sides are represented fairly and accurately in our free marketplace of ideas so that people can exchange information for everyoneâ€™s benefit. Greenwashing undermines a democratic process and having an informed public.