Government relations professionals refusing to acknowledge and leverage public relations as part of influencing public policy are falling behind the times.  A new study by The Center of Public Integrity found that some of the nation's largest trade associations spent nearly twice as much on public relations than lobbying.

According to the study, of $3.4 billion in contracts reported by the 144 trade groups from 2008 through 2012, more than $1.2 billion, or 37 percent, went toward advertising, public relations and marketing services, more than any other category. The second-highest total, $682.2 million, or 20 percent of the total, was directed toward legal, lobbying and government affairs.

The study singles out American Petroleum Institute. It stated, "The oil and gas industry trade group spent more than $7 million lobbying federal officials in 2012. But that sum was dwarfed by the $85.5 million it paid to four public relations and advertising firms to, in effect, lobby the American public — including $51.9 million just to global PR giant Edelman."

"From 2008 through 2012, annual tax filings show, the API paid Edelman a staggering $327.4 million for advertising and public relations services, more than any other contractor." (source PRnewser)

What happens in DC, typically follows in the state capitols.  Every year, more contract lobbyists, state trade associations, corporations and special interests retain public relations firms to elevate their narratives.  Strategic communications and messaging target a coalition of stakeholders ranging from the news media to thought leaders to activists to public officials.

Some would argue it's a black eye on American Democracy, while others argue it's educating the public on the merits of issues that impact their daily lives.

Public relations is more than just creating a persuasive storyline. If done correctly, PR educates the public, which creates credibility.  It humanizes the legal jargon that goes into statutes.

I'm the first to admit that PR is used to persuade minds and influence public policy.  That's a given.  However, I disagree with the study's premise that it's about manufacturing misinformation.  In today's Digital Age, people are media savvy, so if PR looks like spin, smells like spin, and feels like spin (a.k.a. Astroturf), then it often backfires and becomes a liability.

I would counter that it's not how much PR is being used to influence public policy, but rather, the absence of public relations.  When there's no PR, that's when the red flags should go up and the public made aware.

About Patrick Slevin

My PR career started when I was elected the youngest GOP mayor in the nation in 1996. Six months after my election, I was appointed spokesman and surrogate for the GOP presidential nominee U.S. Sen. Bob Dole. Since 1996, I’ve educated opinion leaders and engaged stakeholders as Florida mayor, Fortune 500 corporate PR manager, national trade association communications director, international agency executive, corporate trainer and public speaker.

For the last 12 years, corporate leaders from around the country have retained me for my strategic counsel, campaign leadership and organizational solutions.

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