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01 April 2003

Paranoid PR


For people who believe in the mushroom theory - keep them in the dark and feed them the proverbial - the advent of the internet must have been their worst nightmare come true.

‘Intelligence' can be gathered on almost any subject or organisation with relative ease. Individuals and isolated cells can join forces and become activist groups.

This has greatly alarmed some industry commentators in the United States. Indeed, one practitioner working in the chemical industry warns of a new mode of conflict, the ‘netwar'.

He says this is likely to involve "propaganda campaigns, psychological warfare, and strategic public diplomacy, not just to educate and inform, but to deceive and dis-inform as well."

"Public relations is war," he asserted. "Make enemies, not friends. Identify the opposition and attack their motives. Point your finger at them and name names."

WHAM has a different view. We have seen too many CEOs distracted from their core tasks by dissident individuals and factions with axes to grind. Paranoia can be very destructive when it takes hold on the top floor.

Meanwhile, PR Watch, a quarterly US newsletter, reports that some companies have tried to block their internet critics by registering domain names that someone else might use to attack them.

For instance, Volvo bought the rights to VolvoSucks.com. Chase Manhattan brought IHateChase.com etc.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realise how futile such a tactic might be - but one telco, Verizon, found out the hard way. It bought VerizonSucks.com, only to have some bright spark create VerizonReallySucks.com.

PR isn't war. Nor is it about making enemies - but if a company's business philosophy is based on conflict and distrust, it's guaranteed to make a few. Such companies might rightly be paranoid in a wired world.

- Iain Maclean

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