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The Role of PR for Technology

Disruptive technologies are positively impacting the world in which we live, creating new wealth and reshaping economic and social policy.

Having clear messages and public relations programs in place that enable technologists, scientists and other experts to distinctly articulate their vision can not only help them become industry leaders and advance their technologies, but provides organizations with a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

Public relations - it is the art and science of building relationships between an organization and its key publics. Its practices have the ability to take technology from obscurity to prominence - creating important visibility and generating deal flow.

Most all of today's technologies rely on public awareness and support. If people misunderstand the value of technologies, entities will struggle for support. Jobs will be eliminated, budgets cut, and support will be directed elsewhere.

Public relations campaigns have the potential to turn possibilities into favorable actions. And executives are well advised to put their words in someone else's mouth.

When a prominent scientist wants to pronounce her technological breakthrough, she may do so openly and in her own name. But it is far more effective to have a group of citizens or experts, a coalition, or the media which can publicly promote the outcomes desired by the scientist while claiming to represent the public interest.

When such relationships do not exist, one can be created by a well-networked public relations firm. Advocacy frequently involves building constituencies - groups of people and / or organizations who support a particular viewpoint. Since advocacy usually occurs in the public domain, executives must be prepared to consider the views of many people, and understand how decisions are made within a particular context. The more known about the advocacy issue, the community, and how political institutions function, the more effective the advocate.
The use of front groups can enable scientists, technologists and corporations to take part in public debates and government hearings behind a cover of community concern. These front groups often times lobby governments to legislate in the corporate interest, to oppose environmental regulations, or to introduce policies that enhance corporate profitability.

There may be times when a position being advocated, no matter how well framed and supported, will not be accepted by the public simply because of the messenger. Any institution with a vested commercial interest in the outcome of an issue has a natural credibility barrier to overcome with the public, and often times with the media.

Media advocacy is the process of working with the media to influence healthy public policies through shaping debate about a specific topic. Successful media advocacy ensures that issues include a public perspective, emphasize the social, cultural, economic and political dimensions of an issue, and stress the importance of participation and empowerment in promotion of the issue.

Media advocacy provides the all important third party credibility, and has means for more quickly and furthering a crucial messages.

The old saying, "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity" has never been so accurate as with media advocacy. It encompasses the right combination of preparation and opportunism in the strategic use of mass media to advance an initiative. Having systems and planning in place before campaign commencement is at least as important as the media work itself.

It is essential to:

Know the territory. Good media advocacy requires some surveying of the terrain and a system for tracking coverage and media outlets. Maintain an updated media list with names and track coverage regularly.

Define the issue. The issue is the overarching concern that drives the initiative. Whether it's a problem or vision statement, the issue defines the boundaries from which the initiative is shaped. Issues should reflect the mission, core values and concerns of the organization or coalition -- and should incorporate an institutional angle.

Issues should be presented by turning facts, scientific knowledge, and analysis into symbols, pictures, sounds, and labels. As an example, as a public health advocate, it's understood that cigarette smoking is linked to asthma in children who live around second-hand smoke. Instead of writing a story that gives only the statistics - e.g. how many new cases of childhood asthma are reported - one might present the media with the idea (or picture) of an adult trying to hand a baby a lit cigarette to illustrate the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Public opinions on technology issues are also greatly influenced by strong symbols and labels that capture a widely held, and supposedly correct, attitude.  News sources often use positive images and labels to highlight viewpoints they support and negative images and labels to derogate view points they oppose.

At the center of any public debate or media outreach is a mass of information, statistics, and / or numbers. Making that information easy to understand entails making the content real and vivid. Media advocates often use "creative epidemiology" to make scientific, technological or academic information more understandable for the media and general public.

Three types of creative epidemiology:

1. Localization
Localization is presenting overwhelming statistics and numbers in such a way that the media and public in a particular community can easily relate to them. Localization illustrates a story's numbers in terms of how many people in a certain neighborhood or community are affected by a problem; it makes statistics human and local.

2. Relativity
Relativity compares the effects of one problem with those of another, usually more dramatic, problem.

3. Public policy effects
Public policy effects illustrate the potential effects of public policies in debate.

Whatever technique is used, the goal is to make statistics and numbers more understandable and meaningful so the audience comprehends the message and supports the initiatives.

Regardless of the technology or the issue, success in working with the media is most likely to occur when it is a strategically planned effort. It's the game plan for developing the influence and public awareness that will help achieve the organization's strategic goals, and furthering its technology.

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