Patti Hill & Duana Welch, PhD
technologies are positively impacting the world in which we live, creating
new wealth and reshaping economic and social policy.
Having clear messages and public relations programs in place that enable
technologists, scientists and other experts to distinctly articulate their
vision can not only help them become industry leaders and advance their
technologies, but provides organizations with a voice in the marketplace
of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.
Public relations - it is the art and science of building relationships
between an organization and its key publics. Its practices have the
ability to take technology from obscurity to prominence - creating
important visibility and generating deal flow.
Most all of today's technologies rely on public awareness and support. If
people misunderstand the value of technologies, entities will struggle for
support. Jobs will be eliminated, budgets cut, and support will be
Public relations campaigns have the potential to turn possibilities into
favorable actions. And executives are well advised to put their words in
someone else's mouth.
When a prominent scientist wants to pronounce her technological
breakthrough, she may do so openly and in her own name. But it is far more
effective to have a group of citizens or experts, a coalition, or the
media which can publicly promote the outcomes desired by the scientist
while claiming to represent the public interest.
When such relationships do not exist, one can be created by a
well-networked public relations firm. Advocacy frequently involves
building constituencies - groups of people and / or organizations who
support a particular viewpoint. Since advocacy usually occurs in the
public domain, executives must be prepared to consider the views of many
people, and understand how decisions are made within a particular context.
The more known about the advocacy issue, the community, and how political
institutions function, the more effective the advocate.
The use of front groups can enable scientists, technologists and
corporations to take part in public debates and government hearings behind
a cover of community concern. These front groups often times lobby
governments to legislate in the corporate interest, to oppose
environmental regulations, or to introduce policies that enhance corporate
There may be times when a position being advocated, no matter how well
framed and supported, will not be accepted by the public simply because of
the messenger. Any institution with a vested commercial interest in the
outcome of an issue has a natural credibility barrier to overcome with the
public, and often times with the media.
Media advocacy is the process of working with the media to influence
healthy public policies through shaping debate about a specific topic.
Successful media advocacy ensures that issues include a public
perspective, emphasize the social, cultural, economic and political
dimensions of an issue, and stress the importance of participation and
empowerment in promotion of the issue.
Media advocacy provides the all important third party credibility, and has
means for more quickly and furthering a crucial messages.
The old saying, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets
opportunity" has never been so accurate as with media advocacy. It
encompasses the right combination of preparation and opportunism in the
strategic use of mass media to advance an initiative. Having systems and
planning in place before campaign commencement is at least as important as
the media work itself.
is essential to:
Know the territory. Good media advocacy requires some surveying of
the terrain and a system for tracking coverage and media outlets. Maintain
an updated media list with names and track coverage regularly.
Define the issue. The issue is the overarching concern that drives
the initiative. Whether it's a problem or vision statement, the issue
defines the boundaries from which the initiative is shaped. Issues should
reflect the mission, core values and concerns of the organization or
coalition -- and should incorporate an institutional angle.
Issues should be presented by turning facts, scientific knowledge, and
analysis into symbols, pictures, sounds, and labels. As an example, as a
public health advocate, it's understood that cigarette smoking is linked
to asthma in children who live around second-hand smoke. Instead of
writing a story that gives only the statistics - e.g. how many new cases
of childhood asthma are reported - one might present the media with the
idea (or picture) of an adult trying to hand a baby a lit cigarette to
illustrate the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Public opinions on technology issues are also greatly influenced by strong
symbols and labels that capture a widely held, and supposedly correct,
attitude. News sources often use positive images and labels to
highlight viewpoints they support and negative images and labels to
derogate view points they oppose.
At the center of any public debate or media outreach is a mass of
information, statistics, and / or numbers. Making that information easy to
understand entails making the content real and vivid. Media advocates
often use "creative epidemiology" to make scientific,
technological or academic information more understandable for the media
and general public.
Three types of creative epidemiology:
Localization is presenting overwhelming statistics and numbers in such a
way that the media and public in a particular community can easily relate
to them. Localization illustrates a story's numbers in terms of how many
people in a certain neighborhood or community are affected by a problem;
it makes statistics human and local.
Relativity compares the effects of one problem with those of another,
usually more dramatic, problem.
3. Public policy effects
Public policy effects illustrate the potential effects of public policies
Whatever technique is used, the goal is to make statistics and numbers
more understandable and meaningful so the audience comprehends the message
and supports the initiatives.
Regardless of the technology or the issue, success in working with the
media is most likely to occur when it is a strategically planned effort.
It's the game plan for developing the influence and public awareness that
will help achieve the organization's strategic goals, and furthering its
Hill and Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. are members of the executive management
team for BlabberMouth PR, offering clients
100% representation by senior-level practitioners.
For more information, visit BlabberMouth's web site at
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