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What About Negative PR? An understanding of this controversial field

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Negative PR is a highly controversial issues. It involves campaigning against someone or something rather than focusing on the positive aspects of one’s own organization. This field has been criticized, and the debate on whether this is an ethical approach to public relations rages on. Even though many have strong ethical concerns with how this might be used, there are situations where negative PR could be useful and serve a worthy cause, because the approaches this field uses are, in the end, just tools and can have varying goals. Let’s consider a few techniques that are used in negative campaigning and how they can be employed.

Many feel that the use of specific negative tactics and the tendency to spin the truth in particular ways undermines the credibility of a PR agency. If we look at the history of the field, we can see that it has been used for furthering both ethical and unethical causes, suggesting that PR is, in the end, just a set of tools and not necessarily good or bad by itself. Today, PR professionals try to abide by specific ethical principles that can ensure that the techniques of the field are not misused.

  • Attack

An attack is the basic technique in negative campaigning. It involves directly going against an aspect of the opposing side and focuses on the negative only.  An attack can be especially useful and more ethical to apply in situations when the individual in question, the organization, or the cause have been guilty of unethical or dangerous ads. For example, a campaign focusing on building awareness of racism might directly attack racist views and racist individuals, using their own words and actions against them.

  • Contrast

A contrast message or ad does not include only the negative aspects of an opponent but also positive information about the opposing side. It juxtaposes one and the other and provides evidence in favor of one’s own cause or organization over another. Again, a contrast approach can be especially useful when contrasting ethical and unethical causes. A contrast can successfully be employed to establish the difference between opposing sides.

  • Revealing information

In political campaigns, revealing damaging information about the opponent is common and is generally considered a dirty (if efficient) trick. However, it would be possible to consider some circumstances where revealing information might be the ethical thing to do and could serve a worthier cause. Leaking information concerning dangerous or harmful actions may serve as a PR tactic but also help the public stay informed about a specific situation. Certainly, the lines are never very clear, so it’s important to be careful about the use of such techniques.

There are some clear advantages to using these techniques. They can be effective in achieving specific goals and can be used as a way of keeping a specific public informed about something potentially dangerous or harmful to them. Revealing specific issues, if they are true, may be ethical in some circumstances. While negative PR is a dangerous tool, it can also be used in a positive way.

  • Advocacy

Ever since the origins of PR, the professionals of this field have served as advocates for their clients, causes, or organizations. PR is founded on the idea that everyone deserves to have their side of the story heard, and that is what the techniques are meant to do. This is a principle that can be applied to your situation as well, as many people struggle with the idea of promoting themselves, their products, services, or organizations. Understanding this as a process of self-advocacy can help do it more freely.

  • Honesty

The second ethical principle of PR is honesty. While there may be different ways of presenting the truth, sticking to said truth helps design much more trustworthy campaigns. It’s important to be honest in the information that is being shared and avoid intentionally misleading the audience, especially in regards to serious issues like safety.

  • Fairness

While fairness might seem contrary to the goals of PR (promoting the objectives of a client, for instance), attempting to be fair can contribute to this objective. Fairness involves being honorable with all clients and organizations, including competitors, avoiding the use of dirty tactics, and respecting free speech and the existence of varying opinions.

  • Loyalty

This principle suggests that the professional should have loyalty to their client but, beyond that, to the interest of the public. The specialist is ultimately able to make decisions that benefit the public and the client and is motivated to find solutions that are good for both of these groups.

  • Expertise

One’s work should be based on best practices, using the most current data. This means that a professional in this area should stay up-to-date on the advancements in PR. The principle has a wide applicability, as any campaign should be done using best practices and current information to avoid misleading the public and for the most effective results.

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