Public relations stands as one of the most ubiquitous fields present in corporate Kenya but often one of the most misunderstood.
In crisis, a public relations director or firm remains the first phone call for a troubled CEO, an errant board member, or a marketing director with a new product launch.
However, internal public relations professionals also get stuck with many “other duties as assigned” workload from executives who misunderstand the sector. Public relations essentially thrives as organised persuasive communication.
Public relations professionals create dialogue, shape public opinion, mitigate against disinformation, disseminate thoughtful campaigns, and inform internal and external stakeholders. In honour of the Public Relations Society of Kenya’s annual summit earlier this month, let us investigate a recent research trend in social science.
Vian Bakir, Eric Herring, David Miller, and Piers Robinson new just-released research examines the positives and negatives of organised persuasive communication.
Most public relations research focuses on the positive side of the industry. But organised persuasive communications also holds substantial negative power if done coercively.
As an example, when looking at vibrant democracies but with current leaders holding leaning preferences towards authoritarianism, like in the United States, Turkey, or Israel, many observers highlight non-consensual organised persuasive communication that subsides as neither informed nor free and exists as propaganda.
A positive consensual aspect of public relations includes dialogical consensual communications whereby stakeholders can actively question and receive feedback from a leader. Also, strategic one-way consensual persuasion represents positive public relations.
But negative public relations involve four areas: deception where stakeholders are misinformed, incentivisation and coercion where adherence is not free and fair, and combinations of deception and coercion whereby adherence is not free and fair and also misinformed. US President Donald Trump tilises the negative form of organised persuasive communication with, according to the Washington Post, more than 5,000 false or misleadingly deceptive statements since he took office. An example at the corporate level includes one of the vegetable oil firms here in Kenya.
The brand allegedly involves deception through public campaigns touting the product as healthy all the while ignoring the linkages with vegetable oil and certain types of cancer and uses incentivisation through prizes and discounts to lure customers based on false claims.
Additionally, numerous real estate firms in the country make false claims.
This week a newer real estate agency paid for advertising on Twitter inticing customers to buy “Nairobi plots” but the plots are past Kitengela towards Isinya.
Other famous firms touting plots in up and coming areas advertise eighth of an acre plots. But if a consumer measures between the beacons, one finds out that many plots for sale only comprise 39 feet by 80 feet instead of the typical 50 by 100 feet to total the 5,000 square feet required in an eighth of an acre plot.
These firms usually incentivise and coerce by creating a false sense of urgency requiring purchasers to put a deposit down before being shown the plots or exhibiting quick time schedules whereby the prices will increase exponentially thus thwarting dialogue and disallowing the consumer to formulate educated well researched opinions before buying.
As we continue to develop our strong public relations sector in Kenya, let us also be wary of telltale warning signs of negative organised persuasive communication and alert industry associations or regulators or incorrect and damaging practices.