Effective PR vs. Modern Terrorism

Effective PR Versus Modern Terrorism
Copyright 2010 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D.
(Feel free to repost with author attribution. All views my own.)

If it is true that people are “basically good” (as former eBay CEO Meg
Whitman once famously said), then they seek to find good in others as

This may explain why, despite all the news we hear every day about bad
people doing bad things, people still react with disbelief when they
hear about them.

The reality is that some people are, to reverse Whitman’s quote,
“basically bad”—hateful and destructive. It doesn’t matter why, but
they are. But most people, who are good (I agree with Whitman), and
who want to believe in good, can find this hard to believe.

Psychological resistance to the reality of terrorism can be a problem
for the PR specialist who has to combat their propaganda.

If you are a fan of the TV show “24,” as I am, you know what I’m
talking about. To sum up the premise, there is only one man in the
U.S. government – “Jack Bauer” – who has three things: 1) the wisdom
to figure out who the bad people truly are 2) the technical skill to
track them down and “take them out” and most importantly 3) dedication
to doing the right thing regardless of whether it is popular.

From a branding perspective, one of the recurring themes of the show
that I find most interesting is the impact on Jack of his own image.
It is constantly being debated among the characters of the show—is he
a hero or a dangerous, self-interested rogue?

Usually, throughout the season, he suffers from being branded a rogue,
and is punished for doing the right thing—though in the end he is
recognized for the heroism.

To me, the show is compelling because it mirrors what I see from other
sources—news, books, and other fictional media.

First, real heroes generally don’t rely on PR and usually aren’t even
comfortable with it, because to them it smacks of lying when they
would rather believe in “the truth” (as in, “the truth speaks for
itself.”) This approach is exemplified by Clint Eastwood in the movie,
“In the Line of Fire.”

Yet despite this reliance on the truth, they actually they don’t talk
very much about what they do, if at all – because they know it
compromises operational security.

So they are double-bound by their own very logical thinking—and
ultimately ineffective at managing their image—just like a garden hose
doesn’t keep the lawn green if you don’t turn the water on.

Second, we are living in a world where truth is something you create
rather than something that essentially exists. You shape and tell your
own story, and if you don’t other people will tell it for you – a
cardinal rule of PR.

Terrorists understand this very well. They know what it means to tell
a story, and they do not hesitate to manipulate, mislead, or outright
lie if it helps them to portray themselves in a sympathetic way. (This
is not to engage in a political debate over any particular group, only
to describe the tactic.)

A typical example is the well-known tactic of hiding in a civilian
area, or mingling among civilians, and then provoking a bloody
confrontation. Terrorists know that the resulting footage will be
bloody, and that the one who “caused” the blood to be shed will be
seen as the “bad guy,” which gives them an advantage, at least

Further, because terrorists present themselves as sympathetic, they
tend to gain uninformed allies who want to be good and to help the
“victimized.” This kind of alliance makes the terrorists seem
legitimate, because they are “endorsed” by a credible third party –
basic, classic PR.

Not only that, but terrorists use social media freely, and they speak
in the language of their audience – a powerful combination.

Plus they are extremely focused, well-motivated and fast-moving,
whereas non-terrorists tend to lack the same unity and urgency, and to
underestimate the enemy.

If you find the above frightening, you’re not alone—it frightens me, too.

Here are some ideas on combating terrorist propaganda:

1. First and foremost, name them. You can’t fight an enemy you refuse to name.

2. Be even more determined than they are. It’s about survival, not
just communication.

3. Don’t be fooled into thinking you will automatically win just
because you’re “right.”

4. Hit first, and hit hard—don’t play defense.

5. Experiment with social media, even if you flop—course-correct as
needed but never stop talking.

6. Don’t let team egos get in the way – they’re not.

7. Determine in advance how to get the message out without
compromising any secrets—this is truly key.

8. Don’t think that because they’ve won the battle, they’ve won the
war. It’s about persistence over the long term, not a single

9. Don’t let them manipulate you so that you lose your resolve.

10. Work hand in hand with operations so that you are credible to them
as well as to the public. If you don’t understand operational
security, situational needs, and the subject matter, you can’t be
effective in any capacity.

No matter what you do, however, the one basic tenet of PR that always
applies is to tell the truth. It is a misnomer that PR stands for
propaganda—nothing could be further from the truth, because
credibility is the stock in trade of a PR professional, and
credibility rests on telling it.

Ultimately, your job as the PR specialist is to put the focus where it
belongs—on the enemy—to disarm them by exposing their lies, and at the
same time to show the public that your client is doing ethical,
effective work, at maximum capacity, to block terrorists from
achieving their destructive aims.

Posted via email from Think Brand First


Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal is an author, independent brand researcher, and adjunct marketing professor with 20 years of varied experience. An avid researcher and prolific, creative writer, Dr. Blumenthal's interests span communication, marketing, qualitative media content analysis, political rhetoric, propaganda, leadership, management, organizational development, and more. An engaged citizen, she has for several years worked to raise awareness around child sex trafficking and the dangers of corruption at @drdannielle on Twitter. You can find her articles at Medium, www.AllThingsBrand.com and www.DannielleBlumenthal.com, and she frequently answers questions on Quora. All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own.