Public Relations and Public Diplomacy:
Two Sides of the Same Coin?
Not only are there many similarities between Public Relations (PR) and Public Diplomacy (PD), were it not for one major element, they might be thought identical. Scholars have argued that issues of power have been neglected in PR. This is true, however, it may not illustrate the complete picture.
The main difference is perhaps the cohesion of PD, and the power it can achieve thanks to this. No wonder the Ancient Romans divided their legions into cohorts, for through cohesion, the Roman legionary ‘was adaptable at any place, at any time, for any purpose,’ according to the Ancient Greek historian, Polybius.
There are many similarities in PR and PD. Both of their practitioners strive for reputation building, relationship management, dialogue, transparency, trust, engagement, and conflict resolution. They also work to establish themselves as the Alpha and Omega for their publics and stakeholders, and to out manoeuvre all other communication sources. They do this through a systematic and strategic information campaign, where war sounds better when framed as defence, where sensitive corporate/state social responsibility is employed, as are lobbying and negotiation.
A coin to buy the way to hell?
PR is sometimes perceived or associated with propaganda which always resuscitates the spectres of regimes like Nazism and Communism. The term PD was coined in 1856 in ‘The Times’ newspaper as a synonym for civility. Edmund Gullion re-introduced the word in 1965 as an alternative to propaganda and PR, which carried negative connotations. However, PD like PR, became associated with spin.
It seems that the phrase, "An ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of his country," written as a joke in Henry Wotton's journal, when on a diplomatic mission in 1604, cannot be deleted completely from public perception. This is because PR and PD are distorted in dictatorial regimes. But no one can deny that they are a pillar of democracy.
What is the main difference between the two?
PD is the domain of the diplomat, who represents a state and is a jack of all trades, proficient in international relations, economics, law, history, culture, writing, languages, hi-tech and etiquette. A diplomat’s duties are to communicate, negotiate, cajole, protect and analyse. PD is employed to reach the many strategic objectives of the state, ranging from a treaty, to a memorandum of understanding, war reparations to development aid. PD also aids in cultural exchanges, music festivals and sporting tournaments. The most tangible examples in sport are the World Cup or the Olympic Games, which countries have used to build or enhance their reputations ever since their inceptions. Like bears to honey, the privileged status of PD attracts the media.
PR is fast accruing prominence, especially as the PR practitioner is increasingly dealing with international issues that have a great impact on our lives. Distinctions between PR, marketing and advertisement are at the end of the day perfunctory. When I participated in the World PR Forum in Melbourne last November, Richard Edelman seemed to be clear about this. He also added that PR does not have a monopoly on its creations, citing the example of employee engagement, which has been successfully ‘borrowed’ by the advertising industry. PR has to go all the way to achieve the same elite status of PD. Cohesion of all the elements that make up the discipline, and more if necessary, must be achieved.
|Propaganda is geared to appeal to the public's emotion, not the public's intellect ~ Above, an 1805 French propaganda painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps|
PR fits in International Relations Theory
The dominant international relations (IR) theories are Realism and Liberalism. Realism is a paradigm based on the struggle of all against all, obtaining power in an anarchic system, where everyone pursues his or her interests in a selfish way. Realist PR and PD practitioners give the Environment, Political, Informatic, Social, Technological, Economic and Legal, or EPISTEL, analysis priority. The organisation has no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests. The pursuit of power to survive in a hostile environment is what matters. Extreme PR and PD proponents of Realism are Machiavellians who apply The Art of War of Sun Tsu on every occasion to achieve their goals.
Liberalist PRThe Liberalist paradigm is the hope that reason, ethics, and co-operation can lead to an organised system where misconduct and war can be policed by laws and international enforcement. PR and PD Liberalists value reputation, relationship building, corporate social responsibility, transparency, ethics and trust. Extreme Liberalists in PR and PD are the idealists who believe in world government and peace.
NGO PRThough not a theory as such, I think that it is essential to mention non-governmental organization PR, or NGO PR, which voices those who are not heard and issues yet unknown, or ignored. This is usually what PR and PD practitioners on the other side have to deal with.
ConclusionA coin has two sides. Sometimes a coin is flipped to determine which party has the final decision or victory. Heads, being heavier than tails, has the traditional advantage. Yet, PR has what it takes to become the heavier side. Once cohesion is achieved, PR can move into the realm of power and become the side of the coin to place one’s faith in.
The above is an opinion piece contributed by Kristian Bonnici
Contributor Kristian Bonnici holds an M.A. in Diplomatic Studies. He speaks English, Italian and Maltese fluently, and has a knowledge of French, Arabic and Russian. He is currently the Founder and Chief Executive of Diplomatic Envoy Consultancy, www.diplomaticenvoy.com.au. He is also a member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, Toastmasters International, and Rotary International.