The Rise of PR

The last few decades have seen public relations, or PR, become the most effective way to have commercial messages enter our collective cerebral cortex. That’s when companies convince the media to dress up their press releases as news.

Because the media – radio, newspapers, TV, and the Internet – is the most effective way to breathe life into PR. Especially when it comes to technology products.

Apple is a company built almost entirely on PR. The media in the 80’s couldn’t get enough of the Mac computer and talked about it endlessly. It’s happening again with the iPod.

Dell’s early success was also due to PR. Their product isn’t that exciting – it’s just another Windows PC, after all. But Dell delivered their first workstations free of charge to computer magazines and won
favourable reviews as a result.

PR works in this fashion for one basic reason: we trust the media.

We view it as an objective information outlet, free of that stain of corporate interest. Companies realize this. If they can just get a journalist to say something nice about their widget, they’ll sell more
of the things.

So… why should you believe anything you hear me say in this column? Maybe I’m a corporate lackey? Maybe I’m in for a cut of every gadget I mention?

Is it hot in here, or is it me?

Seriously, you should wonder about technology news this way. Much of it is a press release embellished with an angle. It’s PR fruit that’s not fallen far from the corporate tree.

The other reason PR works so well, though, is that we’re dedicated consumers. I mean, we’re more a society of shoppers than citizens. So a web site news update about a fancy MP3 player can be pretty exciting

And, admit it: you revel in PR. C’mon… own up. Do you buy magazines like GQ, Wired, People, Vogue, or Canadian Driver? Yeah, you’re a PR junkie.

My favourite one is Cargo. It’s page after page of gadgets, duds and cars for the contemporary male. I like to think of it as consumer porn.

But Cargo acts like it’s a serious magazine.

The moral of the story is that you have to take everything you read, hear or see in the media with a grain of salt. More so than you ever have before.

But, back to what’s really important: how do you know you can trust me? Well, in the words of Han Solo, it’s me…

I’m Andrew Robulack.

Originally aired October 12, 2004 on CBC Radio North.
Copyright Andrew Robulack 2004