Is Public Relations a Mechanism of Manipulation?

public relations manipulation

Respond to the following observation about public relations: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in a democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”

In my opinion, this observation is very similar to the work of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In his book, The Will to Power, Nietzsche spends a great deal of time identifying the difference between “the dominion” and those who lack the will to overpower the majority who controls society. This observation parallels some of Nietzsche’s suggestion in the sense that it suggests that public relations practitioners are part of a “dominating” class in society which controls the minds of the “inferior” class by consciously and intelligently manipulating their thoughts and perceptions about people, places, and things.

And is that not what we declare ourselves to be? Masters of manipulation and presentation? Wordsmiths that feed external stakeholders like the media, shareholders, and government officials a message designed to portrait our clients in the whitest of lights?

Nietzsche defines the will to truth as “the will to be master over the multiplicity of sensations” that make up the idea of knowledge. This would suggest that only those who master the senses and come to understand the truth behind all of the manipulation shall ever will themselves to understand the truth in the messages, the advertisements, and the placements.

Could this not be described as an “unseen mechanism?” In my opinion, that seems to parallel the second sentence of this observation quite well.

Does this mean that public relations professionals have all the answers for businesses looking to take over their industry? I wouldn’t say that this is true, as I certainly am not a financial analyst nor am I a corporate shark that knows when it’s time to take over a smaller company.

I would say that this observation fuels the belief that public relations can be tied into numerous aspects of a business and serve as an umbrella function for many areas of corporate interest due to the relationships one must establish to be successful in the industry and the power and influence that can come from a well-executed public relations campaign.

I welcome the thoughts and suggestions of other seasoned public relations professionals. I would be interested in knowing how they respond to the observation mentioned above.

Suggested Reading

  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Will to Power. Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1967.

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Yasheaka Oakley Owens

Yasheaka Oakley Owens is the owner of YOakleyPR, a woman-owned small business that provides public relations, social media, and online marketing support services to small businesses and 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations in Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southern New Jersey and Delaware.

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