Profiting from propaganda — a guide to the chief executive; a short introduction to the problems & possibilities of public relations and propaganda for Australian business & government
(Canberra: A Maxwell Newton Business Publication, 1968).
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Note from Maxwell Newton for Economics.org.au readers
“When I was in Canberra, Richard Farmer [former Private Secretary to the Chairman of the Commonwealth Public Service Board Sir Frederick Wheeler and Campaign Advisor for the Labor Party during the Hawke-Keating years] and I [Maxwell Newton, Foundation Editor of Australia’s only national dailies The Australian Financial Review and The Australian] composed a little booklet explaining various techniques which might be used for the purpose of undermining journalists and using them to promote dubious causes in their columns.”
[Source: Maxwell Newton, “Manipulating the Media,” Australian Penthouse, April 1980, pp. 125-28, 144-45.]
Below, this booklet from 1968 is republished for the first time.
1. The Need for Propaganda
In recent years, it has become necessary for organisations in many fields to mobilise public opinion to achieve goals they desire. With political parties, the need for the mobilisation has long been known. If a “yellow peril” fear will win elections, then such a fear must be created. The Liberal Country Party has done just this with remarkable success over the past decade. But for businesses too, influencing public opinion is also necessary. The launching of a new company or a new product are examples. At a different level companies often find it necessary to try to gain public support for a campaign to influence governments to make decisions in their favour.
But despite the need for what we have called public relations, many companies have no idea how to go about a propaganda operation. This booklet is designed to give some basic hints for the unskilled, gleaned from the journalistic experience of the staff of our organisation.
Some basic warnings, which will be touched on throughout the booklet, and should be constantly born in mind are these:
- Propaganda operations can be dangerous (especially when they involve putting pressure on a government) and should, therefore, be treated very seriously.
- Because of the risks involved, decisions about any campaign should be regarded as a matter for top management. The public relations handout man is of no value except as an accessory.
- While under some circumstances it might be necessary to mislead by omission, never tell a lie. This advice is not given for any moral reason but because experience has shown that the danger of detection is too great and with detection goes failure.
2. Don’t confuse routine and policy jobs
Routine public relations — involving the handing out of pretty pictures of the company’s activities and achievements — and policy public relations are two very different types of propaganda operation and should not be confused. The routine job no doubt has its uses. For this kind of work companies may either have their own publicity organisation or rely on one of the public relations companies. Unless a company is a very large one, it will find that the public relations companies have considerable advantage as a distribution agency. But normally, the company publicity man will not be suitable for policy public relations work. And it is difficult to think of any occasion on which the large public relations company would be suitable. This is because of the need for propaganda work to be carried out by a group of people who are very clear about their objective. And the risks of letting too many people know what your intention really is, is too great, as will be explained later. An outsider, not privy to a company’s real problems in a day to day working sense can rarely help in a policy propaganda task.
3. The head man must be in charge
In any public propaganda operation, it is no use giving the responsibility for the operation to junior officers in the organisation. Propaganda is only effectively deployed when it is deployed with the knowledge and guidance of one or two of the very top people in the organisation. Only the managing director or his deputy, assisted by one or two of their most senior aides, are able to lay down the lines for effective propaganda, directed towards the achievement of some company objective. Only these officers can be trusted to take the risks involved and to possess the judgement to use information and persuasion at the right time on the right people. Propaganda is a risky business and has to be undertaken with the full knowledge of the whole of the strengths and weaknesses of the case to be presented. Only a man with access to the whole grisly story, warts and all, will be able to plan a line of propaganda which will not leave him and his company open to attack from better prepared opponents. This does not necessarily mean that the top officials themselves have to give the relevant briefings to journalists or make the relevant public statements. In those companies where he is not an executive member, these public appearances and presentation of policy lines may be done even by the Board Chairman on formal occasions but only on the condition that the Chairman has been very well briefed and has been trained to do what he is told to do in presenting the relevant case. It can take a long time to get Chairmen to the point where they are capable of making an effective job of such presentations, under strict trainers orders, and consequently it is often better to leave the Chairman out of it as much as possible. The question of preparing for an announcement is considered in the section on “The Press Conference.” The kind of non-executive who could be a help and not a hindrance in putting your story across would be a man who has had a wide political background which would make him amenable to proper briefing.
The press conference is an instrument for the projection of ideas. It is wrong, and indeed dangerous, to go into a press conference without a very clear idea of what it is desired to get across. There is no point in holding a press conference without very careful preparatory thought and planning. Press conferences can easily be turned to the disadvantage of the promoters unless there is complete clarity about what idea has to be put across.
4. Preparation and the press conference
As in all propaganda operations, it is important to have a “front of the house” man who has the ability to think for himself. It can be very dangerous to put a man up to a press conference who is able to learn exactly what he is told but who has only a limited ability to think for himself when he is out in the open. Having said that, the vital thing to remember before holding your press conference is that the “front of the house” man has to be thoroughly briefed. He has to know very clearly what he is supposed to be putting across. He has to be rehearsed and put into the position where he has three or four central points he is going to get across. It is wrong to believe that even a man who has been working constantly in a certain area can get up at a press conference and handle the situation without detailed preparation. At the very least, over-confidence before a press conference will give the opening to one of the questioners to turn the argument in a direction in which you do not want it to go.
The central point is this: you are calling a press conference because, as in all propaganda, you want to use the medium of the Press, radio or television for your own purposes. You have called this press conference because you have decided you want to get some idea across.
It is usually far better to send your “front of the house” man into the press conference on his own. If he has not been sufficiently prepared to be able to handle the situation by himself, or if he is insufficiently expert at directing the conversation along the lines he is seeking, then do not have a press conference at all. Find another way of getting your point across. There may be some point in “bringing the press boys in for a drink” in a very informal non-working session. But these are time-consuming and yield little result. Pressmen are looking for a story and it is the job of the propagandist to give them one.
The press conference will give the “front of the house” man a chance to express his ideas and to encourage the pressmen to accept those ideas. It also gives him a chance to express his personality and to make a favourable impression on the pressmen in the room. But just as important as any of these reasons, it gives him a chance to give the pressmen a written statement of his views to take away with them. It is important to remember that today in Australia the Press is in a very depressed state. Journalists working on Press, radio and television have been badly paid for a long time and have had little opportunity for free self-expression. The imposition of proprietorial views has led to a depression in initiative among journalists and a general reduction in standards which is now only very gradually being overcome. Consequently, it can be taken for granted that very few of the journalists who will attend a normal political or company press conference are knowledgeable in any but a superficial way about the subject matter under discussion. There are those, in politics and in business, who become agitated about this. The thoughtful propagandist will recognise, however, that this gives him an opportunity. The top paid graded journalists in Australia get about $140 a week and most of the journalists who will be at an ordinary press conference will be getting about $100, on average. These journalists are usually inexperienced, and poorly trained. They are available to be persuaded.
Having given his press conference, in which he will usually find, if he has prepared himself well that he has little trouble in dealing with the questions raised, the “front of the house” man will have his chance to hand out some written material. This should contain matter prepared at different levels of comprehension. One would normally suggest a quite long printed paper, without illustrations and reasonably demanding intellectually, as a basic document. For those very few journalists who are really interested, this basic document will give them a very thorough (and appropriately thought-directed), exposition of the problem under discussion. This long “fundamental” paper will have had to be prepared some time in advance of the press conference and will have been the subject of very careful attention by the propaganda adviser and by the top executives of the relevant organisation. It will contain in its pages a very factual and carefully written statement of the problem and will direct the thoughts of the reader carefully and apparently entirely objectively but inexorably to a conclusion in sympathy with the company or institutional viewpoint which has to be got across.
Much of the difficulty in improving the quality of propaganda work in Australia has been related to the poor quality of the preparation of this “basic document”. So much of the preparatory phase in propaganda has been of poor quality, loosely thought out, badly researched and expressed in a slipshod or overbearing manner. The preparation of this “basic document” is a fundamental step, which will have helped to prepare the whole of the company, political party, institution or other group launching a propaganda programme. This “basic document” will act as an instrument for the unification of thinking within the relevant group and will allow the propagandist specialist to get together with the other top executives of the group concerned. One of the basic failings of many propaganda jobs in Australia has been the failure to do thorough preparatory work. It is thought that the stage of actually transmitting the message to the media of communication is the important stage. In fact, this is in many respects the least important. The vital stage is in the development of a “basic document” of argument and exposition, of a high quality.
This “basic document” will be available for subsequent editing and for presentation in simplified form. A number of pamphlets can be prepared, with illustrations, which will give the main outline of the argument in a form which can be more easily digested. Such pamphlets can be quite compelling and will often provide journalists with illustrations, graphs and the like which can be used when they write their articles. This material will be given to the journalists after the press conference and will for many of them represent the alternative to taking notes or to studying the issues in depth themselves, outside the range of the material they are given. In most cases, the articles and items subsequently presented in the communications media will be versions of the material handed out at the conclusion of the press conference.
The official opening of a project or plant is really very similar to the press conference as far as the initial planning is concerned. As well as getting journalists to the site to see for themselves, basic documentation is required. The Western Australian iron ore companies Hamersley Iron and the Mt Newman group have done this very well. Hamersley went to great pains to provide journalists at its opening with a variety of written material graded in sophistication from that about living in an iron ore town to the company’s financial history. Journalists from the range of papers from the afternoon dailies to the Financial Review found that there was something they could use that would be suitable for their publication without they themselves being required to do a great deal of work. That journalists themselves often are not interested in writing their own stories was shown particularly in the case of the trip to W.A. provided by the Mt Newman people for financial journalists throughout Australia. With only two exceptions — The Bulletin and The Daily Mirror — the same handout material was fed back. This was a well managed press information tour with a big thought control payout.
5. Spreading your money around
Having established your particular propaganda object, it is desirable to have the whole of the running of the programme, whether it is a short or a long term programme, in the control of a very small group — perhaps not more than three people should know the full story of what you are up to. This will be found to be necessary over a period of time, as it will be necessary to use various different approaches for the accomplishment of desired propaganda objects. Thus, it is most desirable, and it is an approach which has been frequently used, to combine the use of advertising with the use of the release of printed matter, private and public briefings of journalists, personal appearances and all the rest of the apparatus of propaganda. Paid advertisements are an important and most useful part of any propaganda campaign. It is possible to use them as a source of explicit or implicit patronage and it is desirable for the initiating and controlling committee to have their own very firm ideas about where paid advertising should be lodged.
The combination of a substantial volume of paid advertising in conjunction with a programme of press statements, public appearances, press conferences and the like will undoubtedly assist in stimulating the interest of the owners of the relevant media in your cause. It is only to be expected that the managers of any communications medium will feel embarrassed attacking you when they are taking your money. While journalists may not be told explicitly to leave you alone, or to help you, when their masters are taking your money, it is a reasonable presumption that journalists will feel in the atmosphere that it would hardly be cricket to harm you while you are helping to pay their wages.
Thus, the use of paid advertisements has an important role to play in getting your ideas across. Men and companies who have made good use of the paid advertisement in combination with other aspects of a propaganda campaign have been Mr R.W. Miller, Mr Ansett, Marrickville Holdings Limited, Gordon Barton/IPEC, and Washington H. Soul Pattinson. Needless to say, there is a very substantial continuing background effect of lubrication occurring in the case of the major motor companies, oil companies and airline companies. Indeed it is true that to achieve a really significant national propaganda effect in Australia quite a lot of money is required. This is true even of political organisations such as the Basic Industries Group who have used advertisements and published material to effect — and at considerable cost.
More direct in its intention but not necessarily entirely reliable in its results is the payment of money to politicians. Much of this occurs in Australia. Individual politicians receive campaign contributions, sometimes in cash and often at a very high level in individual parties. Other politicians are paid “retainers” by companies. This certainly applies at the Federal level. It would be wrong, however, to believe that this sort of direct payment system guarantees results. Politicians are unfortunately subject to a variety of pressures and experience shows that money paid to an Australian politician guarantees little more than his general goodwill. The last thing that must happen is for the relevant politician to be identified as being on any individual company’s payroll and this itself tends to diminish his effectiveness in any but a very general and long-term sense. Indeed, the greater the value achieved for actually paying Australian politicians, State and Federal, would seem to be in the often more reliable and intimate intelligence one obtains of the particular line-up in the party room on matters of particular interest in the propaganda jobs under way.
It is also possible, and a common practice, for interested parties to try to increase the financial stability of individual journalists. One such method is to make offers of common stock in interested companies to journalists at the time of new issues. This is a widely used system of building goodwill and is also practised in relation to individual politicians. As in all such matters, it is necessary to pick one’s mark and move with due deliberation, as in the past offers of common stock to journalists and politicians have been rejected, sometimes with the effect of actually reducing the warmth of the relations between parties.
However, businessmen, with their consuming interest in money, will readily understand that journalists and politicians are no less interested, at bottom, in improving their financial situation than are people in business. It, therefore, seems hardly sensible to ignore the opportunities which exist for using money in a rather direct way to ensure and improved reception for a given idea or cause. It is a common practice within advertising and marketing to attempt to “sweeten” the impact of a given advertising message by requesting, directly or indirectly, the additional provision of “editorial coverage” of the matters being announced in advertisements. In many of the leading metropolitan newspapers in Australia today, the use of “supplements” is based pretty directly on this sort of give-and-take arrangement. It is not such a long step from this system to actually paying a journalist to write or publish what you want. Indeed, in some of the smaller publications, some of them privately circulating, it is possible to make payments, of say $100 in cash, in return for the publication of an item. This may appear shocking to some but it is all part of the same broad stream of paying for advertising.
Of course there are other ways of enlisting the support of individual journalists. One such method is to have individual journalists engage on “research work” for the relevant company. As they have been badly paid in the past, journalists are looking for additional source of employment. They can be used to assist in the preparation of company public relations material, in research on specific topics, on the preparation of booklets. This is a source of patronage which is also available to the Government — one of the few such sources but one which can be used to long-term effect. The Department of Trade has in the past regularly “farmed out” jobs of writing to journalists. This has a value to the department far beyond that of provision of the relevant written matter. In Canberra, a number of journalists represent, in a direct or indirect fashion, various companies around the nation — “keeping an eye on things in Canberra”. Here is another useful avenue for building up a wider and wider spread of useful and sympathetic journalists.
Having said that, it does not follow that it is a sufficient condition for the success of your propaganda job that you have a lit of money to spread around. It is probably true, as stated above, that to make a really big splash and to have a really big impact on public thinking it is necessary to have a lot of money to spend. But much more is required. The particular need is the existence of a really thought out “basic document”.
6. Being the underdog
In the Australian environment, a sound basis for many propaganda programmes is to paint one’s own side in the argument as being the underdog. Many serious problems have been created for companies operating in Australia by their failure to understand the importance of not appearing big. Shipping companies and oil companies have fallen into this trap and have made little continuing effort to get out of it.
In any good propaganda campaign, which relies on enlisting public support and the support of communications media, it is very desirable to make oneself appear the underdog. This will involve specifically pointing out that one’s own company, institution or government body is small in relation to the competitor or opponent; that the competitor or opponent has the lion’s share of the business, or the money, or the influence.
The underdog ploy was used very successfully by Mr R.M. Ansett in the early days of his competition with A.N.A. The A.N.A. people never succeeded in convincing a significant number of people — if ever they tried — that they were anything but a group of foreign shipowners who were incapable of running a modern airline. Mr Ansett was able to play on the fear of size and the fear of the foreigner and at the same time to play up his own humble beginnings. He made very successful use of the them of “the battler”. Unfortunately for his organisation, he has not kept up this theme in his days of success and now his organisation is suffering from the impression of indifference and arrogance which he displays personally. In recent times his organisation has been able to overcome the handicap he personally presents in its propaganda by getting away entirely from Reg Ansett. He has been very silent in recent years. It had reached the point where, from being an asset to the propaganda people in his organisation and in the Commonwealth Government, he had become a liability. He had changed from being a battler to being a top man, with a big organisation behind him. The loss of the charisma of the underdog has cost him very substantial political and popular support and has immensely complicated the propaganda task within his organisation.
Another man who made very successful use of the underdog ploy was Mr Rod Miller, who was also able to invoke great public sympathy in his attempt to introduce Australian tankers to the Australian coast in competition with the foreign-owned tankers. Mr Miller is a very wealthy man — as is Mr Ansett. But he was able for some time to make very good use out of the political asset of the underdog position in which he cast himself and his organisation, in relation to the big bad foreign shipping and oil companies.
Yet another man who initially made great play with the underdog idea was Mr Gordon Barton, in his struggle to launch a pure freight airline operation and it is true that even today, a good time after Mr Barton’s specific intense propaganda programme on the freight airline issue has finished, he is able to evoke the spirit of the underdog. The earlier successes of Mr Ansett and the Department of Civil Aviation in attracting public sympathy for the two-airline idea have been lost as the Department and Mr Ansett have come to be seen as the establishment which is opposing reform and competition.
7. The herd leader
One technique which can be of considerable help to the person or company with a message to put across is to isolate the “herd leader” in a particular group of journalists writing about a problem. It often happens in financial and economic journalism (and no doubt in other areas as well) that one or two journalists can be seen as the leaders of the herd in policy thinking. Other journalists are seen to respect and follow the thought of these herd leaders. These are the men the intelligent propagandist is going to get to know, to study and the persuade or, on occasions, to confuse. By getting to know the relevant journalist it is not meant that it is really terribly useful to have him along to tea or to drinks. For the herd leader is normally not an ignorant man and can see through the blatant attempts to win his friendship. What is important is to make the ideas you are wanting to get across sufficiently interesting and exciting that this journalist is going to become personally involved in your case. It may be that you will eventually fail to win him over to your view completely. But the important thing is to make the ideas you are trying to put across exciting to this journalist so that he cannot resist digging deeper into the subject. Once you have attracted his curiosity, it is necessary to keep feeding that curiosity so that he becomes more and more involved in the issues that are important to you.
Outstanding use of the herd leader approach is made by B.H.P. with Mr Robert Gottliebsen of The Financial Review. The company has singled out Mr Gottliebsen as a man to cultivate, and has successfully aroused his interest in what are very fascinating activities. B.H.P.’s general coverage in the press has improved immeasurably since they abandoned the tight lipped approach and interested this very competent journalist who is well regarded by his colleagues. What Mr Gottliebsen writes about B.H.P. is normally taken as an accurate starting point by other journalists.
The value of concentrating attention on a few influential journalists was also used in the propaganda job done by the Department of Civil Aviation at the time of the introduction of the two-airline policy and the takeover of A.N.A. by Ansett. At that time the Director General, Mr D.G. Anderson, and his First Assistant Director-General, Dr Harold Poulton, now a senior executive with Ansett, assisted directly by Mr Doug Gillison, now deceased, and Mr Ross Alexander, now public relations director for Ansett, carried out a forceful and imaginative programme of propaganda in support of the two-airline policy and in support of the whole range of major policy decisions, relating to routes, finance and aircraft purchase, which were necessary, or thought to be necessary, for the successful consummation of that policy. Mr Anderson and his colleagues at that time penetrated the financial press, and the journalists writing in that area, with great skill. They brought off an enormously successful propaganda operation, which left Mr Ansett’s opponents with very little effective public support at that time.
8. The calculated leak
One of the most obvious problems in all forms of propaganda is the simple problem of attracting attention to the argument that it is wanted to get across. In government propaganda as in private business, there is a possible combination of public statements by senior people, such as the Minister or Chairman, release of documents supporting the argument and various forms of advertising, public appearances and the like. But one weapon of considerable value in the propaganda armoury is the calculated leak. This may involve the leaking of a story, perhaps the whole story, to one individual journalist. The journalist chosen should normally be one writing for a newspaper or magazine with a limited but, in terms of quality, above average, audience. The Financial Review and The Australian would probably fit this category for most companies trying to float an idea. But magazines like The Bulletin and Nation can also be useful in this regard. Often the use of this technique will result in other journalists then wanting to follow the story line in more popular newspapers, television and the like. One value of this approach is that it permits the top people involved on the pushing side to get their entire story across to a journalist who can be trusted to get it straight and complete from the word go. Others then pick up the story from the herd leader and carry on, usually with little attempt at critical inspection of the basic argument that has been prepared and put over to this single herd leader at the outset.
The basic idea of the news leak can also be used very effectively to market products as well as ideas. One remarkable recent example of the use of the calculated leak was in the launching of the new model Holden in January 1968. During December and on into January, the G.M.-H people were able to ensure a continuing volume of reports in the Press giving various versions of the features of the new model Holden. At one stage it was even suggested and published, that a drawing of the new Holden had been discovered in the garbage in a Sydney motor dealer’s shop. The programme of leakages had the effect of raising public interest in the new model Holden and provided a build-up of public anticipation which could culminate in the formal launching programme for the new vehicle. Calculated leakage programmes of this sort can be very useful. There is a nice element of judgement about the extent to which advance leaking detracts from the impact of the actual launch.
Another example of calculated leaking occurred before the launching of The Australian when Rupert Murdoch carried off successfully a programme of gradually dribbling out bits of information which increased the tension surrounding the final launch and provided the foundation for substantial coverage of he final event on television and other media not blacked out by competitors.
The calculated leak is very useful in forcing media which might normally not want to report your idea or your product into doing so. By starting a hare running, it is possible to force journalists who might otherwise be unfavourably disposed to your idea or your product into reporting what you are doing or what you are saying. The competitive urge is involved.
9. Going direct to the proprietor
Some propagandists favour the use of the direct approach to the newspaper proprietor to ensure transmission of ideas. This is not an approach which should be denigrated as it has often been used with great effect in the past. In 1961 there were cooperative arrangements settled between Mr Calwell and Mr R.A. Henderson, Managing Director of John Fairfax Limited, when the resources of John Fairfax were generously thrown behind the A.L.P. in the 1961 Federal Election. There was evidence of a similar arrangement of cooperation between Mr (as he then was) Warwick Fairfax, Governing Director of John Fairfax, and the Liberal Party in New South Wales at the time of the 1983 Federal Election, when the policy of the Sydney Morning Herald suddenly switched to support of the Liberal Party as a result of a change of heart by Mr Fairfax imposed forcefully on the editorial staff of the Sydney Morning Herald. There was also evidence that early this year Mr McEwen enlisted the support of Mr Rupert Murdoch and gave him evidence to support a campaign he was then waging. Mr Murdoch has in the past had very close relations with Sir William Gunn who used to visit him in the offices of The Australian in Canberra. In recent months, Mr McEwen made approaches to various newspaper proprietors, to ensure that journalists working for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Financial Review, The Australian and The Age did not publish matter critical of himself or of his tariff policies, or of his department.
The direct approach to the newspaper proprietor has much to commend it. Often it is possible to combine this direct approach with negotiations in relation to advertising and in the heat of a campaign the ability to be able to throw in two or three full page advertisements is something that can often help to provide just that little extra enthusiastic support which is felt to be needed at certain times. It is a fact that journalists can be dragooned by their proprietors into writing in a certain way over relatively short periods of time.
But after a time, most journalists, and certainly the ones you would often be most wanting to influence — those with the power to think for themselves — will tend to fight against proprietorial instructions. Whatever they write, under instructions, is not going to have the ring of truth and will not be be of enduring benefit to you, although as we have said it can be of value in the short term. Nevertheless, it is of importance to remember the possibility of dealing direct with the newspaper or other media proprietors. This can be of particular benefit during those days of extreme pressure and crisis which will occur during any important propaganda operation.
As with politicians, so with newspaper proprietors — the mere passage of money from one hand to another does not necessarily guarantee reliable performance, to your specifications. Newspaper proprietors and unreliable, as the record of the Murdoch Press in various State election campaigns in New South Wales has shown and as the record of the J. Fairfax organisation in politics has also shown. This is a problem which sends some propagandists and advertising executives into tears. However, it is a problem and an opportunity, which has to be recognised at the outset and included in your general plan of campaign.
Another practical hint worth remembering at all times is that the degree of influence exercised by any publication or medium is not necessarily proportional to the size of its circulation. It is, rather, proportional to the validity of the ideas being propounded and to the accuracy of the information contained in the publication. Anyone in business or politics knows of examples, from his own experience, of the extraordinary upheavals and embarrassments which can be caused by the disclosure of unfavourable — but accurate — items of information in publications of relatively tiny circulation.
It is also very important to remember this general rule when in the early stages of a programme, for at this stage, publications of limited circulation but with above average intellectual quality may be very useful (as stated in “The calculated leak”) in the launching of the foundations of a propaganda idea.
At this point it is also important to state that it is desirable to eschew the use of bullying or outright pressure on journalists. This is part of the same type of problem mentioned above in relation to making deals direct with newspaper or other media proprietors. Recently, Mr McEwen, the Deputy Prime Minister, used his Press Secretary, Mr R. Macklin, to make threats to journalists in the Parliamentary Press Gallery in Canberra, demanding that they vote a certain way on a matter of Press Gallery administration. Journalists subsequently stated in a meeting in Canberra held to discuss these matters that individuals had been approached with threats and inducements by Mr Macklin to vote in a certain fashion. This approach proved to be damaging to Mr McEwen’s cause. Another approach which has been used is the threat of the writ. This is something which has been used on occasions by, among others, Mr Ansett, after he got over his early days as an underdog. The consequences of the use of the writ against newspapers or other media can be extremely damaging to the cause you are promoting and writs should only be used in the most extreme circumstances. Their use at any time is to be deplored. This is not because newspapers do not deserve from time to time to receive writs but because the effect of legal action is to sour relations needlessly. Legal action is generally a sign of a complete failure of your propaganda programme and of a breakdown in your whole initiative in the area. Other bullying tactics include withdrawal of subscriptions, cancellation of advertising. These approaches are stupid. They will eventually go badly for your cause as these matters are remembered for a lifetime by any journalist worth worrying about and it is doubtful he will allow the relevant bully to forget what he has done.
Far more powerful than bullying is the attempt to invoke the inherent idealism of journalists. Normally, it is desirable to put all arguments in idealistic terms. The need to “be an underdog” is one aspect of this. Another compelling programme in Australia is to express the idea you want accepted in terms of “freedom”. If you can somehow put your argument in terms that someone is taking away the people’s freedom by what they are doing to you or failing to do for you, then experience shows that you will touch sensitive and powerful responses in the Australian people. Australians are thoroughly regimented. They are quite docile and uncritical of authority. But they have this myth that they are a freedom loving people and an appeal to this myth can evoke important responses.
10. Manufacturing public opinion
A common technique used by the propagandist to try to put pressure on organisation or person is to try to convey the impression that there is considerable public pressure for what he wants to be done to in fact be done. It is for this reason that groups petition parliaments, organise letters or telegrams to be sent to members of Parliament and/or newspapers and arrange deputations. Both politicians and newspapers are capable of influence in this way. But as in all aspects of propaganda operation, great care is needed. The approaches must appear to be genuine expressions of public opinion. For this reason petitions are of limited value. It is too well known that many people sign petitions without knowing what is in them. Suspicion is also aroused if identical letters or telegrams are sent by a large number of people. To give two examples. After The Australian published an editorial strongly critical of state aid, elements in the Roman Catholic Church roneod form letters which were sent to the editor in their thousands. Each pointed out that the “writer” was cancelling his subscription. After a very short time it became clear that someone had overplayed his hand. The paper had been promised almost as many cancellations as it had sales, yet there was very little noticeable difference in circulation. The other example worth considering is the campaign by manufacturing industry (organised by the Associated Chamber of Manufacturers) against a plan by the Tariff Board to classify industries into those requiring high, medium and low tariff protection. The aim of the exercise as seen by the Board was to draw up a list of priorities for review cases to be made by the Board. In itself the classification would signify very little. Whether an industry should continue to obtain protection or whether resources should be eased out of the area would only be determined after the Board’s normal thorough inquiry. A.C.M.A., however, decided that danger was imminent and made statements indicating that it was unfair to draw up a list and suggested that if an industry was placed in the “high” category the Board would automatically want its protection withdrawn. The same cry was taken up by subsidiary industry associations, and finally individual companies sent telegrams to members of parliament pointing out the dangers. But despite the support given to the campaign by Mr McEwen the Board is going ahead with its plans.
In both these cases the propaganda attempts have been unsuccessful because the case has been overstated. To have any real effect, letters should never be the same or similar, as this proves that the whole thing is organised. Not that organisation is undesirable. It is in fact most desirable indeed. But you must have letters written by people who can not be traced back as associates of yours. This can be easily done by getting such people as your typists mother to write for you, in her own words and handwriting. All you need to do is make sure that the thoughts expressed (and it does not matter if this is done a little clumsily) are in line with your basic objective. Five or six letters of this kind to one member of parliament or 10 or 20 to a newspaper are all you need to convey the impression of widespread public support. You certainly don’t need or want hundreds.
11. Using a tame organisation
One technique of propaganda which has been used by the Department of Trade for intra-Governmental propaganda, is the establishment of built in tame pressure groups. These groups are used by the department to float departmental ideas and to give them the appearance of having arisen as spontaneous thoughts from “the business community”. The Department of Trade invented this technique many years ago with the establishment of the Export Development Council and the Manufacturing Industry Advisory Council. These bodies have tame businessmen recruited on to them and, with a Department of Trade secretariat, bowl back to the department the department’s own ideas. This technique is quite easily capable of being adapted by other bodies.
Working on the assumption that propaganda is often more effective if it appears to be broadly based rather than coming just from one company, a number of high sounding organisations have been set up in Australia. The Basic Industries Group, for example, is really the mouthpiece of only two or three men who feel that the Country Party under Mr McEwen’s leadership is acting against their own interests. But by not directly associating themselves with the campaign against Mr McEwen’s Country Party they have increased the impact. That “Mr Jones” and “Mr Smith” oppose Mr McEwen and take a couple of advertisements would hardly cause a ripple of interest unless they were very prominent men indeed. But the reaction of Mr McEwen to the B.I.G.’s activities show the impact that these same men can have by sheltering behind what is in effect a body with limited membership.
This does not mean that it is necessary for you to set up your own organisation. Most probably one already exists that will suit your purposes. Most industry groups already have their own associations and if the propaganda point is one which has industry wide applicability their name can usually be borrowed. The fact that influence is greater coming from one representative voice rather than a large number of individual voices is, of course, the reason for the formation of industry associations. A statement coming from an association sounds much more authoritative than if made by a couple of individual companies. This is the sole reason for the existence of bodies like the Australian Bankers’ Association Research Directorate, the Australian Industries Development Association and the Institute of Public Affairs, the grand titles of which conceal their selfish purpose.
12. Using an independent report
There will be occasions when the use of a tame organisation will not have the impact required, yet you require something more substantial than a statement made by yourself alone. To have the Associated Chamber of Manufacturers make a statement for example on the effects on your industry of some tariff decision will have very little impact. A.C.M.A. are always making such statements to the point where very little notice is now taken of them. One way around the problem is to commission an independent body to make a report for you. Provided you have at least some fragment of a case and the terms of reference are carefully written a very suitable independent report can be prepared for you without anyone having to lie. Provided other aspects of your propaganda job are handled well, very few people will notice or care about the limited terms of reference. Management consultant firms can be quite suitable such independent bodies.
On occasions, of course, an organisation will find itself in the situation where it has a propaganda campaign thrust upon it by the strategy of some other group. In these circumstances the counter punch has to be planned just as carefully as any other campaign. The most successful example of a counter attack seen in Australia in recent years was the Commonwealth Treasury reply to the Vernon Committee Report. This department has no formal public relations establishment but was able to secure the dissemination of views highly damaging to the Vernon Report through the thoughts and words of one or two officials with gifts of advocacy and of commanding the respect of influential journalists. In this campaign the Treasury had one very useful advantage which may not be available to companies. They were in possession of the document prepared by the enemy for many months before it became public, and carried out their indoctrination of key economic journalists in good time. Thus when the report was made public it was immediately criticised in the press. The fight was won before it had really started.
13. The counter punch
Another example of the counter punch was the attack launched by the Treasurer, Mr McMahon, on his colleague Mr Bury over the question of the extent of the rise in “real” wages and the rise in government spending. Mr Bury had argued, broadly, that the rise in government spending was inhibiting the rise in “real” wages. This speech of Mr Bury’s was taken by Mr McMahon as critical of the Treasurer and shortly after Mr Bury spoke, Mr McMahon issued a statement in which Mr Bury was never mentioned but in which the Treasurer issued figures which damaged the factual basis of Mr Bury’s argument. This was a good example of the delayed counter punch. (Although Mr Bury had much right on his side he was shown to have made factual mistakes.)
The delayed counter punch is often, indeed usually, the most effective. There is no point in immediately answering an attack. Naturally, a reply is desirable at an early date. But it is wrong to rush in with your counter punch too soon. Certainly, it is wrong to allow a feeling that there is a need for haste in replying to interfere with the force and weight of your reply. An immediate reply often finds you falling into the trap of arguing on the enemy’s ground. Usually you will find that if you take a day or two to reply, you will be able to mobilise so much new factual material as to either confuse the argument irreparably, or to demolish the factual foundations of your opponent’s case. Look with particular care for some factual errors he may have made, no matter how small. Factual mistakes will discredit his argument even though you may not succeed in topping the main line of his attack.
14. Don’t blame the wicked press
One of the most frequent responses of an organisation which finds itself in trouble with the public is to start blaming the press. This is an admission of failure. The trouble a company is in may well be the result of public misunderstanding and this misunderstanding may well have flowed from something read in the press. But blaming “the wicked press” will not remove the misunderstanding. Possibly it will make things worse.
A familiar reaction of people who feel that the press is to blame is to become unapproachable, to refuse to talk to the press in future. This carries with it great dangers that criticism will be compounded. The experience of the Navy in recent years is a good illustration.
15. The Navy’s failure
During a period of critical importance for its future development, the Navy was under two Chiefs of the Naval Staff, neither of whom gave any indication of understanding of the value of propaganda as an instrument of policy. Admiral Burrell was C.N.S. from 1959-62 and Admiral Harrington was C.N.S. from 1962-65. This was the period during which decisions were taken by the Government which were widely resented by the Navy, including the decision to abandon the full Fleet Air Arm and consequently not to buy an aircraft carrier. The Navy did not achieve great successes in the reorganisation of the defence services. The Air Force did far better, gaining the Mirage, the Orion and the F111. While propaganda may not have solved this problem for the Navy, there is no doubt the Navy’s case did not get much of an airing. One had the spectacle of relatively junior naval officers at that time taking journalists to dinner and inviting them to their homes for confidential briefings on the dangers of what Air Marshal Scherger (Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee from 1961-66) was doing to the structure of Australian defence.
Sir Frederick Scherger, unlike the Navy people, did have an excellent grasp of the value of propaganda. He was a master of the confidential briefing to journalists and used his skill to great effect. He did not mind taking risks — a vital element in any propaganda campaign which stands any remote chance of success — had a very pleasant personal manner, knew exactly what he wanted and was a great salesman. He ran rings round the Navy. One of his techniques in conversation which was very useful in relation to the Navy problem was to talk of the Navy in indulgent and faintly pitying terms, full of goodwill, a man trying to help the Navy see where its own best interest lay. The best interest definitely did not lie in the Navy having anything but a skeleton Fleet Air Arm.
The Broken Hill Proprietary Co Ltd also suffered for many years from refusing to communicate with the press. Thus the views of Mr Albert Shepherd on the company’s dividend policies received a far more favourable press coverage than they deserved as did criticisms of the so-called lack of initiative in trying to secure more steel export sales. Mr Neville Wills (now Professor) was one man within B.H.P. who tried hard to improve the situation. But it was left to Mr Derek Sawer to carry the struggle against those senior executives who considered they had been “hard done by” to the point where it is now possible to at least try to get information from the company. The results of this change at B.H.P. are obvious enough to see as the company receives nowhere near the criticism that could be expected of a monopolist steel-maker.
The oil companies are another example of organisations which suffer from aloofness and an obvious belief that the press should be given only a minimum of information and that that information should be well and truly digested. The former manager of the Shell Oil group in Australia, Mr Lewis Luxton, personified the haughty approach of this breed. Mr Luxton regularly expressed his contempt for the press in private conversations. This contempt could well have been justified. But Mr Luxton paid the penalty when he failed completely to gain a sympathetic understanding of the problems of oil refiners when the competition between heavy oils and coal became an issue in the early 1960’s.
The underlying resentment which oil companies have built up among the press despite their valued advertising (and the public) has been shown very clearly in the last couple of months. The discovery of considerable oil deposits by Esso-B.H.P. in Bass Strait will have the result of increasing the price of petrol and other oil products in 1969 and 1970 until an incentive plan introduction by the Commonwealth Government expires. When the incentive plan was introduced, the only oil producer was the Union-Kern-A.O.G. group at Moonie. Their find was small and the cost of the incentive likewise small.
Because of the way petrol prices are fixed in Australia the increased costs of using Moonie oil had to be borne by the refiners. The “bad” image created by newspapers saw to it that no-one was particularly upset about that. But now that Esso, one of the refiners, has crude oil of its own in such quantities that the increased price will have to be passed on, people can see the validity of argument that the incentive payment is not a good thing. Most Australian newspapers, the Labor Party and the Democratic Labor Party, have come out against its continuation after B.H.P.-Esso begin production.
Esso thus find themselves in the situation where they have as little public support when the incentive works in their favour as they did when it worked against them. The principle of saying nothing has not helped on this occasion. No attempt has been made to point out to newspapers (and through them the public) how necessary it is that further oil strikes be made and how the incentive payment would encourage such strikes. Neither have they made any attempt to show what a reasonable company they are by suggesting that the amount of subsidy be reduced. Admittedly, persuading the motorist that it was in his interest to pay more for his petrol would be a difficult task. But the belief that the opposition reported in the press was largely of the press’ own creation and that therefore nothing should be done to answer it look like leading to a compounding of the problems. Both the Labor Part and the D.L.P. are now committed to the abolition of the whole incentive payment and they will have the numbers in the Senate in 1970 to see that it is abolished. If Esso-B.H.P. had not silently relied on the letter of the law which guarantees them the incentive payment until the end of 1970, it is probable that at least the D.L.P. could have been persuaded to settle for a reduced incentive payment rather than its total abolition.
16. The value of controversy
Many companies are frightened of propaganda. Yet they are not frightened of normal product advertising, which is a primitive form of propaganda. They fear that by becoming involved in “controversy” they will affect the sale of their products.
Experience in some important recent cases, however, reveals that controversies which have been launched by companies which know what they are doing can have a very valuable side-effect in stimulating the sale of the company’s products, even though the final aim of the particular propaganda campaign is not achieved. It seems to be certainly the case that IPEC, Ansett and Marrickville Holdings all registered substantial gains in product sales and product recognition as a result of having embarked on propaganda operations initiated by the companies concerned to meet a particular problem not related directly — although indirectly extremely important to — product final sales.
During the course of a propaganda operation, directed by a company with a clear idea of its objectives in mind, there will be a very sharp increase in the degree of public knowledge about the company and incidentally about its products. As long as the company’s good name is not affected during the course of the campaign — and there is no reason why it should be affected by a vigorous propaganda job — the company will benefit from very substantially increased public recognition which will provide a new asset to be capitalised in terms of future sales.
17. Don’t tell lies
It is terribly important, when engaging in propaganda, not to tell lies. Errors of fact can be disastrous during the times of extreme pressure. There is no need to tell lies. It is a lazy way out of trouble and it can have terrible consequences. For this reason, and recognising also that the opposition will be doing whatever they can to unearth your secrets and will undoubtedly have a much greater degree of success than you expect, it is not possible to stress too strongly the importance of confining the control of any operation to a very few people, perhaps no more than two or three, including in that group the chief executive of the organisation concerned.
Finally, remember at all times that propaganda is an instrument of policy, a tool to be used in the furtherance of your company’s institutions or government’s aims. If you do not make energetic use of propaganda, you can be sure that your opponents will. If you make half-hearted or slovenly use of propaganda, you can be sure that eventually your opponents will best you. Above all, don’t get emotional about propaganda. It’s there to be used.
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