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The Prez and PR

Some describe it as being nice to your neighbors. Others call it acting deferentially to folks to whom you are indebted, in terms of money, career, whatever. Still others say it’s behaving in a manner that mesmerizes the unaware, whom you plan to touch for something—a loan? votes? a sale? —presently or in the foreseeable future. Playful dudes prefer to define it as gymnastics of sweetness ‘n’ light that you conjure to discombobulate your mother-in-law.

What is it? It’s, uh, public relations, the weapon of choice of those shooting for domination in the political arena, or fighting for self-preservation or advancement in the corporate world.

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Books abound on public relations or PR, its beginnings and growth through good times and hard, through the turmoil of conflicting views on its real nature and real function. They are interesting reads. They fertilize the brain, feed you with highfalutin jargon only semanticists can decipher. But none comes close to becoming a certified page-turner than the seminal “Winning Anvils” by PR guru Charlie Agatep.

(To digress a little: Sir Charlie was my PR mentor in college. We had a good teacher-pupil relationship. Fact is, I unilaterally appointed him my idol and role model. But mention to him that I tout getting my PR training from him and quick as a fist of fury he’d clap a hand on your mouth and hiss, “Shh, not so loud, he’s not the best endorsement for my book.”)

PR and advertising are of the same mold. Both seek to influence persons with purported minds to like and be ardent devotees of what you’re selling or pushing—a product, an idea, an entity, a personality, or, to be banal about it, yourself. The slight or huge (take your pick) difference between PR and advertising is in the manner they execute their mission. Advertising does it in direct, no-frills style; PR would go into circumlocution, tell the story of humankind and the dawn of civilization to sell or push the same thing.

Let’s say both were commissioned to do a media double-spread singing paeans to President Duterte for his superb handling of our foreign relations, particularly with China. Advertising would likely confine itself to plain, tidy copy of simple expressions. But PR would likely scale the heights of poetical drivel with copy that in part could read:

“We hold this truth as self-evident that never in the history of this nation has so much been owed by so many to so few—President Duterte and his merry band led by bold, straight-shooting Secretary Alan Cayetano. Negotiating brilliantly, they are taking the Chinese to the cleaners as they extract concession after concession that will change the economic landscape of our country.”

And more drivel that would bend the mind of the few remaining unbelievers and professional skeptics to the undeniable fact that Mr. Duterte is handling the China issue just fine.

The fundamental law of PR is to do good, talk well, act nice, speak clean. The goal is to be held in high regard, to be loved, to be respected, to garner high social and political approval, to win Anvils. I have a problem with this law which I intend to take up with my mentor Sir Charlie:

The media depict Mr. Duterte as one leader who doesn’t give a hoot about this law, and shows his contempt of it by doing exactly the reverse of what it prescribes to earn goodwill and public esteem. He wars on respectable women who dare talk back to him or contradict him, or who simply live on the same planet he does. He is not beneath denigrating anyone, from lowly barangay heads to world leaders. He called a US president and a UN secretary general fools, cussed the Pope, publicly rued he didn’t get first crack in the rape of a foreign missionary. And he peppers his speeches with cuss words in three languages.

In the view of PR PhDs, many of his actions and words are absolute PR no-nos. They are a mixture of threat and intimidation reinforced by an emphatic reference to your mother’s ugly profession. They will earn no goodwill, will win no Anvil.

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Oh? Then explain exactly why: Despite the President’s egregious trampling of PR’s sacred law, his approval rating stays briefly in the 70s and then swings merrily back to its longtime perch, the 80s.

Don’t take issue with me, I didn’t invent his rating. If you disagree, contest it with SWS. My point is this: The more the President ignores PR precepts and sticks to his style of acting and talking, the more devotees he’ll gather. Eat your hearts out, PR men.

Mart del Rosario ([email protected]) is a retired advertising-PR consultant.

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TAGS: Agatep, Cayetano, Duterte, PR guru, public relations
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