Thousands of years ago, the great ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle formally established the theory of rhetoric, which establishes the art of persuasion in the public based upon the principles of ethos (the speakers credibility), pathos (the emotional impact on the audience) and logos (the logical impact on the audience) (European Rhetoric, 2007). This communications theory has been used throughout history to help spread information, establish agenda, win hearts and minds and persuade the masses to mobilize to do incredible and disastrous things. Also during this time, public relations has also been utilized hand and hand with a powerful, successful and charismatic rhetoric. How else did Rome control most of Europe and North Africa without modern technology? How else did Adolf Hitler convince the German people to embrace Nazism? How else did Ho Chi Minh rally the North Vietnamese to resist a superior armed force? How else is Isis still recruiting people despite the vast amounts of information against them? Certainly many contributing factors did, but none of these people/groups could have been successful without a powerful rhetoric to go along with their public relations activities.
One more thing I failed to mention, and which will also be the primary focus of this blog is truth is supposed to have a powerful impact on the rhetoric of public relations. While Aristotle says that logos plays an important role in rhetoric, we know this hasn’t always been the case. Just from my examples alone, you can pick apart the messages each of those groups put out and pick out the lies and half truths. What each of the leaders of these groups/movements did is take advantage of peoples emotions with a fiery rhetoric, symbols and control of information. According to Joachim Krueger PhD, “…emotions give useful guidance whenever the environment fails to provide all the information needed forand thoughtful analysis.”(Krueger 2010 para 9) Given each of these situations were in desperate times, this makes perfect sense and the leaders, catering to people’s emotions, made the best logical decision by appealing to people’s emotions, even if they omitted the truth.
So how does the concept of truth and emotions in rhetoric actually fit into public relations? According to the public relations process, getting factual research is an essential part of a successful public relations campaign and yet, plenty of successful organizations have done without it. Or did they? Like my title suggests, if the research suggests that it might be wise to withhold information or appeal to your target audience’s emotions, then you might be doing the right thing for your organization. On the other hand, there is the chance you could be labeled as propoganda. In an article written by Susan Kinnear, she references Patricia Parsons book Ethics in Public Relations and mentions how one can avoid looking like propoganda. Avoid false, fabricated, misrepresented, distorted or irrelevant evidence to support your point of view, avoid intentionally specious, unsupported or illogical reasoning, avoid trying to divert the public’s attention by using such approaches as smear campaigns, or evoking intense emotions, avoid asking your public to link your idea to emotion-laden values, motives or goals to which it is not really related, don’t conceal your real purpose (or the real supporters of your cause) and don’t oversimplify complex situations into simplistic, two-valued or polar views or choices( Kinnear 2017 para 18). This is kind of funny because many of these things we see that is suggested you don’t do to look like propoganda has been utilized successfully throughout history and even in recent years.Public relations practicioners, as well as anyone who deals with the public on a grand scale, should be aware of this at all times.
A perfect example of this in play in today’s world is the ride of Donald Trump. Say what you want about him, but he has undoubtedly mastered the art of rhetoric and has embraced what he has put forth from day 1 and rode it all the way to the White House. Even in the White House, you can see how he and his media team, even when faced with the truth, will still go with the rhetoric they want to put out to the point it can be frustrating to watch for some people. One could argue all politicians with an agenda do this, but the current administration seems to have brought the art of rhetoric to the next level. One could only imagine what it’s like to work on that public relations team.
Speaking of politicians, it is argued by some that todays politicians have lost the art of rhetoric in recent years, despite access to the latest and greatest technology and talent. According to an article by BBC, it is suggested that many British politicians have been reduced to just reading from the teleprompter and not actually saying anything. It mentions a specific event where a speaker repeated the phrase “long-term economic plan” 5 times( Beard 2015). While this might have to do more with charisma than rhetoric of public relations, it is a public relations workers job to make sure their clients are ready for any situaion, so this is also something where some emotion can be coached as compared to logic.
Let’s make something perfectly clear here; I am not suggesting that one abandons logic in favor of emotion. What I am saying is that sometimes a logical use emotion is the wise choice to use in your public relations campaign, as opposed to one that is based purely on facts. In perfect world, every public relations campaign would be based purely on facts and everyone would react how you want them to; this isn’t perfect world and some things work and others don’t, which sometimes makes the use of emotion over logic the right choice, if used logically.
Beard, M. (2015, February 06). Have modern politicians lost the art of rhetoric? Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-31128840
Ethos, Pathos & Logos – Modes of Persuasion (Aristotle). (2007). Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.european-rhetoric.com/ethos-pathos-logos-modes-persuasion-aristotle/
Kinnear, S. (2017). What is the role of rhetoric in public relations practice and how does it relate to the management of an organisation’s reputation? Retrieved March 21, 2017, from http://www.academia.edu/447683/What_is_the_role_of_rhetoric_in_public_relations_practice_and_how_does_it_relate_to_the_management_of_an_organisation_s_reputation