Monday, August 14, 2006

PR - a glimpse into the dark side

Paull Young is an Australian PR man who has taken a stand against ‘astroturfing’. This term describes the practice by organisations with vested interests of creating a false impression of grassroots opinion which appear to support their interests by targeting letters to newspapers, calls to radio phone-ins, and so on.

He provides a link to this article in the Australian journal Overland, describing a workshop event in which tactics like astroturfing are advocated to discredit NGOs, activist organisations or anyone else who might get in the way of questionable corporate behaviour.

The event was organised by Canadian PR 'consultant', Ross Irvine who argues:
The stratagem is to promote not with facts but values. This is what activists do, and what industry must do better.

The article is worth reading, especially if you believe that all PR is concerned with telling the truth, building relationships and keeping channels of communications open. It offers a disturbing insight into the dark side of PR. And it’s pretty scary.

(Thanks again to Philip Mediations Young for enabling me to follow the links to these sites.)

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Paull Young said...


I'm glad you pointed to my post.

I'd point out though that the activities of Ross Irvine, rather than being the 'dark side' of PR, should not be considered PR at all.

If you head to the anti-astroturfing campaign homepage you'll find a wealth of information explaining why the tactics promoted by Ross Irvine should never be used by a PR professional.

Pete Wilby said...

Paull - many thanks for your comment. There's no doubt that astroturfing is an insidious practice that is damaging the image of PR. Sadly, there are many who would claim to be 'PR professionals' who see their role as directing public opinion along certain lines, using whatever means they believe are at their disposal.

Therefore all power to your campaign and to Source Watch's 'PR Watch' in alerting us to such practices.

I certainly make a point of drawing my students' attention to concerns about 'dark side' activities and the anti-astroturfing website will be included in my teaching materials this coming semester!

Ayo said...


This is a story that must be of some considerable interest to colleagues in the 'Corporate Watch' movement. As well, it sems to me a very good example (albeit a more insidious and desperate one), of what Andrew Wernick has referred to as the 'instrumental character' of communication in an era of promotional culture.