Contents this month
When is public engagement really public relations?
Public engagement is turning into something of a bandwagon - and
a money spinner - for people who normally deliver the one-way processes
of public relations.
Numerous PR firms now claim to do 'engagement', but their definitions
of engagement do not always tally with ours. The give-away is often
in the small print: usually along the lines of "we'll ensure
that your project goes forward with the minimum of delay or obstruction
by campaigners or local authorities".
If they do get into detail, it is to tell you how good they are
at "targeting local influencers" or "ensuring people
have the information they need to support the right decision".
In other words, they regard 'engagement' as the process of persuading
people to agree with their clients.
There is nothing wrong, of course, in making sure people are informed
- provided that the information is accurate. But how many public
relations campaigns are anxious to point out the negatives as well
as the positives?
Would the clients pay so well if 'engagement' processes pointed
out the warts as well as the wonders?
The distinctive purposes of engagement should be to generate accurate
information that enables people to make informed decisions; to discern
real interests and real concerns on all sides; to build trust between
organisations and the public; to agree shared values and the priorities
they dictate; and to create shared as well as unilateral commitments
Consultation and engagement can help ensure that ‘respect’
is mutual; that there is space for democracy - for the voices of
all to be heard - between elections and in the places where those
voices are too often silent; and that that those in positions of
power listen so that people don’t have to shout or to take
to the streets.
Engagement must be about so much more than just getting your own