Inside the Profession

Friday Five: The Role of Public Relations in the Syrian Conflict

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We often talk about how public relations and social media significantly impact the sales and reputation of popular brands and public companies. However, when details like chemical weapons being allegedly used in Syria emerge, we are reminded of the implications of strategic, calculated communication and the effects of ill-conceived PR plans.

In this week’s PRSA “Friday Five” post — an analysis of the week’s biggest public relations and business news and commentary — we look at instances of how public relations has impacted the crisis in Syria up until this point. We will also examine the ways in which social media is being utilized to impact the reputation of public figures. Finally, we will scrutinize brands that use a conflict like the one in Syria as an ill-conceived marketing opportunity.

The PR maze of voting on Syria strikes (PR Daily)

With President Obama requesting congressional approval for a military strike on Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons on its own people, Matt Wilson of Ragan’s PR Daily explains why the Senate and House of Representatives vote is like “walking a tightrope” and why the president may emerge from this request looking weak.

David Johnson, CEO of the PR and political consulting firm Strategic Vision believes the president may look weak because it seems he’s “passing the buck” to Congress, forcing them to make a difficult and unpopular decision for him. Lauren Simpson, a PR and social media strategist at Cohn Marketing, believes the congress may be facing similar difficulties, mostly because this vote isn’t happening along traditional party lines. Finally, because of the sensitivity of the situation, Lee Boggs, a professor of political marketing at West Virginia University, says it’ll be tough for anyone to come out of this situation looking particularly good.

The hard comms lessons of Syria (PRWeek)

Philip Crowley, assistant secretary for public affairs and spokesman for the US Department of State between 2009 and 2011, discusses the strategic communications lessons that have come from Syria. He said the three lessons that come to mind are the importance of credibility, context and sequencing.

  • Credibility: Once lost, it is difficult to regain. US and Britain can’t help but refer to the War in Iraq
  • Context: Because the war in Syria is already in its third year, the public sees little prospect of success
  • Sequencing: According to Crowley, in an effort to defend President Obama’s red line, the White House’s rhetoric may have outpaced the political process

Syrian groups gearing up to campaign on behalf of military strike (McClatchy Washington Bureau)

With the escalation of US pressure for military action in Syria, special interest groups have popped up as a public relations response. Groups such as The Syrian Institute for Progress have begun to fund ads in publications like the Washington Post.  One particular ad showed an image of children who were allegedly victims of a chemical weapons attack and declared that “America’s credibility and national interests are at stake” in the coming military authorization vote.

According to the article, this isn’t the first time PR practices have been used to get the public on the side of a controversial military movement. The article states, “Past Middle East wars have seen their own public relations mobilization, some of which have become controversial after the shooting starts.

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad Fails ‘Social Media Makeovers for Dictators’ (PR Newser)

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has been using various social media properties to clean up his negative image. Apparently, reputation experts advising al-Assad have created an official Instagram account for the president, “syrianpresidency.”

Images of the account show al-Assad in various positive poses: As a young man working, mingling with the adoring public, and even his wife doing charity work around Syria. It doesn’t, however, seem to be having the intended outcome. Patrick Coffee of PRNewser notes, “Most Instagrammers have taken the occasion to let al-Assad know exactly how they feel in comments often including the word “hell” and other, less printable curses. “

Kenneth Cole Intended Dumb Tweet To ‘Provoke A Dialogue’ About Syria (Huffington Post)

Kenneth Cole is once again in hot water over an inappropriate tweet tied to a national news story. Yesterday afternoon the fashion brand tweeted: “’Boots on the ground’ or not, let’s not forget about sandals, pumps and loafers. #Footwear”

In response to the outrage that followed the tweet, public relations professionals surmised that the brand would issue an apology. However, what followed was an Instagram video from Kenneth Cole himself that nobody could’ve predicted. He said, “I’ve always used my platform to provoke dialogue about important issues, including HIV/AIDS, war and homelessness. I’m well aware of the risks that come with this approach, and if this encourages further awareness and discussion of critical issues, then all the better.”

About the author

Rosanne Mottola, APR

Rosanne Mottola, APR, is public relations manager for the Public Relations Society of America. She is an adjunct professor of public relations at St. John’s University, Staten Island. Mottola obtained a master’s degree in public relations and corporate communications from New York University in 2010. You can connect with her on Twitter @RoeMoPR or on LinkedIn.

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