By Alan Graner
Merriam-Webster defines propaganda as
- spreading ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.
- ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause
Hotwire states propaganda “is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”
How does this differ from “spin”?
Wikipedia contends “spin” is a form of propaganda.
- It provides a biased interpretation of an event or situation to persuade public opinion for or against a company, brand, product or person.
- It uses deceptive and highly manipulative tactics that are unfavorable or potentially harmful to the reputation of a company, person, brand or product.
Example: If a consumer group claims your product causes fires, you use “spin” to question their methods and evaluation.
The basic difference between propaganda and PR
Propaganda uses lies, half-truths, innuendo, smears, misinformation, one-sided arguments and inflammatory rhetoric to influence the public’s attitude toward a cause, ideal or, usually, a political agenda.
Public relations usually relies on “truthiness” based on logic, facts and sometimes emotions to spread information between an organization and its publics—information to promote products and services, and build good will for the organizations.
Propaganda’s underlying philosophy is us against them. “They” are often denigrated as undesirables or simply “the enemy.” (We have freedom fighters; they have terrorists.)
Public relations’ underlying philosophy is building trust between an organization, and its products and services, with its targeted audiences for mutual benefit.
Propaganda relies on one-way communications. It seeks to eliminate dissent, and those who disagree may suddenly “disappear.”
Public relations, increasingly, relies on two-way communications via social media and encourages different points of view so organizations can better service their clients and customers.
To sum up
Both techniques may employ “spin.”
If what they’re spinning is based on truth, it’s PR.
If not, it’s propaganda.
Agree? Disagree? What’s your opinion?
Alan Graner is Chief Creative Officer at Daly-Swartz Public Relations, an Orange County, CA business public relations and marketing content firm. For content that makes you stand out from the crowd, email Jeffrey Swartz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or visit www.dsprel.com.
This blog is based, in part, on an earlier version.