The Importance of PR at Wartime

16 mins read
The Importance of PR at Wartime.

Public relations is becoming more important in modern wars, and in particular, in the new war against terrorism, these communications play a decisive role more than ever. Each side stakes on its war propaganda, ranging from branding to the manipulation of words and information. The value of PR during the war increases gradually. To this date, about 2 million dollars are allocated annually in the USA alone for PR campaigns, while before they were not paid at all. 

Since the first Public Information Committees during the First World War, many factors have influenced the change and a significant increase in the role of the PR. In fact, the wars have always developed the technique of PR campaigning, which then, in times of peace, was further developed, improving the ability to understand and manipulate public opinion during the war.

The Importance of PR in the Modern World

The PR department is in greater demand than ever and more than ever is helping governments, businesses, and organizations, doing their part and influencing public opinion.

The importance of information in wars did not come out of anywhere. The United States have understood better the role of PR in the war during the First World War. The creation of the Committees of Public Information (CPI) was the first attempt to mobilize and control American public opinion. The public had to accept and give its consent to joining the war in Europe. Another previous event was the terrible propaganda of Nazism during the Second World War to win the approval and consent of the masses.

PR in the War of Russia against Ukraine

Of course, this war, to a greater extent, is being waged in the field of information and communications. The intention to find a person capable of simultaneously conducting a military operation and controlling the transmitted information, as well as the growing role of the Internet, are factors that indicate that this is information warfare.

And in 2022, we already have a vivid example of the importance of public relations in politics – the Russian war in Ukraine. What techniques I’ve noticed:

Strengthening the image of one leader, worsening the reputation of another leader

Anyone who is at least a little interested in history can find that the emergence of negative technologies in PR dates back to ancient times and is by no means associated with the supposed period of the birth of PR and the emergence of “social responsibility of business”. The same is happening now, the first image from the category of negative PR was the “image of the enemy”.

At first, the “Image of the Enemy” in Russia was used to form the “noble struggle”, political and corporate ideology, the “imperial complex” (the superiority of one nation over another, religion, etc.). These days they used the reason of the liberation of the Ukrainian people from ultra-nationalists who allegedly are in power in Ukraine.

Managing Reputation

With the era of the Great geographical discoveries, a new simple term DT was born – “discrediting images”. It means the destruction of the value system and imposing one’s own, associated with the use of “compromising evidence”. Along with this PR technology, the secondary image became positive (“charismatic leaders”, “prophets”, “saviors of the nation”, etc.), most often by opposing the original “image of the enemy”. In this case, it concerns the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky. His conduct and dedication during the war strengthened his reputation and strengthened his role among the leaders of other countries. For example:

How Zelenskyy’s ‘selfie videos’ are helping Ukraine win the PR war against Russia

From the very first day of the war, as the capital city becomes a war zone, the Ukrainian president started to take selfies and post them on social media accounts. He looked into the camera and delivered a clear and compelling message: “I am here. We will not lay down any weapons.” 

What did it give to him?

  • Connecting with the audience

The first reason his videos were so effective is they connected with viewers on social media. Social media expands the visibility of a message when users feel personally connected with a person, turning them essentially into opinion-makers when they share it with like-minded people.

Zelenskyy’s message emphasizing the consolidation of his people and a sense of solidarity created a connection with many of the people who saw his selfies and videos. And with a compelling and direct message, the posts appealed to a wide variety of international audiences on social media and humanized this war. 

  • The immediacy of the message

The second reason why these videos are compelling is the immediacy of his message.

Zelenskyy’s appeal for help on behalf of his people – as missiles and bombs were falling throughout Ukraine – was as urgent as one can be. This turned millions of users into instant followers for his cause of raising international pressure to help him repel the Russian attacks.

  • Authenticity

With the help of a selfie in the center of Kyiv, Zelensky showed that he proved that he was still in Kyiv and that the fears of Ukrainians that the president had left his state disappeared.

Putin also understands the importance that the citizens of Russia and the world need to demonstrate their presence, well-being, and closeness to people. But he didn’t succeed:

Fakes

Fake news has become one of the most important weapons in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Their goal was to create panic among the population, reduce resistance, increase influence.

Let’s start with Russian propaganda inside Russia. This PR machine has been building up for years. For more than 10 years, Russian television has been systematically writing a new history of relations between Russia and Ukraine: they created a history of Ukraine that would be beneficial for Russian politicians, talking about its historical belonging to the “big brother” of Russia, conveying distorted information about the political structure in Ukraine and its individual politicians, intimidating about a possible attack NATO, if Ukraine becomes a member of this union. The purpose of such propaganda is to break the desire of the Russian population to oppose the war, to convince them of the correctness of the decision to attack a peaceful country – Ukraine.

But that was just preparation. When hostilities had already begun, Russian PR managers launched many new fake campaigns:

Local

Using Telegram publics, the Russian military misinformed the population that they were asking Ukrainian troops to evacuate, but they were refusing; that the Ukrainian army in another territory has already surrendered, and therefore the local surrounded settlement must also surrender because no one will protect them …

National

The Russian troops, with the help of incorrect information about the occupied Ukrainian territories, blackmailed the leadership of Ukraine and other world countries with a nuclear catastrophe through accidents at nuclear power plants.

The Russians also spread fakes about laboratories for the development of biochemical weapons on the territory of Ukraine. These statements began to be made by the Russian side especially actively after the transfer of several tons of ammonia to the territory of Ukraine (as Ukrainian intelligence showed). That is, the rule “attack is the best defense” works in PR like never before.

Interception of the telephone conversations

It was also a well-spread idea, that Russian hackers have hacked messengers used by Ukrainians and are now listening and reading our conversations. The State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine reported that listening to messengers is a fake.

Western partners got scared and left Ukraine to its fate

Another cynical fake designed to sow panic, demoralize Ukrainians and break the resistance of Ukrainians. Today, the world has united around Ukraine. Western partners were giving them weapons, ammunition, fuel, humanitarian and financial assistance, and more than 20,000 foreigners have already signed up for the international battalion.

Refugees from Eastern Ukraine are not welcome in the Westestern Ukraine

Information began to spread actively on social networks that refugees from the east behave in the west not as refugees, but as tourists. Employees of the Center for Combating Disinformation personally contacted the owners of hotels in Western Ukraine to refute this fake. According to them, the settlers behave modestly, help the local defense and collect humanitarian aid. This fake was designed to split the west and east, which today are united more than ever.

Earlier Examples in History

D. Grierson is considered one of the largest representatives and the actual founder of British PR. It is he who actively promotes the idea of ​​using documentary films to shape public opinion.

The next impetus to the development of British PR is received after the war when numerous propaganda specialists were involved in solving the problem of the employment of war veterans. As a result, PR services are formed at all levels of government, from central to local government.

Political PR of power structures aims to create positive images of political leaders and parties in power while ignoring the opposition. In achieving this goal, the administrative resource plays a significant role, because the ruling party or a representative of the country’s leadership has much more newsworthy reasons than their political rivals. This practice, in particular, was widely used by the government of M. Thatcher, which allowed the conservatives to stay in power for 18 years.

The remains of the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon can still be seen in flames from the events of 9/11, and public relations experts at the Department of Defense in Washington are already discussing the name of the military operation that the United States will conduct in response to the terrorist attack.

At first, this operation was given the name “Infinite Justice Operation” – it sounded strong, defiant, and the American President George W. Bush himself publicly called this war a “crusade” against terrorism. This was exactly what made the Arabs feel offended. In addition to being like a declaration of Christian holy war, it was in conflict with the principle of Islamism: only God or Allah has the right to administer justice. And, finally, Washington experts decided to appeal to a quick rebranding, again dubbing this war as “Operation Freedom for All Seasons.” This does not sound so categorical, imperative, but it is combined with the main goal of the PR in the new war against terrorism. This goal was to support, protect more Islamic countries against the terrorist Osama bin Laden and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. So much discussion around war branding is no coincidence: the US government knows that this war, like few wars so far, will either be won or lost through the media, the means that serve to win and win the minds and hearts of Americans, Western allies, third world countries, and moderate Arab countries.

That information and its dominance over public opinion is the key point that is nothing new since the wars of the last century. And this is confirmed by the first war of the 21st century, information is the key to all victories, the value of information will never again be diminished after this war.

Naturally, the Americans learned from their mistakes in the PR campaign and during the Vietnam War in the 70s, when reports showed the horrors from the front, and US public opinion more and more distanced itself from the conflict each time. In the Gulf War, Washington already knew that television should show the chronicle of events that military strategists would like: super-precise projectiles hit the target like during surgical operations, and the target is the terrible figure of Saddam Hussein.

Wrapping Up

Public relations is becoming more important each time in modern wars, and in particular, in the new war against terrorism, these communications play a decisive role more than ever. Each side stakes on its war propaganda, ranging from branding to the manipulation of words and information. The PR department is in greater demand than ever and more than ever is helping governments, businesses, and organizations, doing their part and influencing public opinion.

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Daria Nartya

Hi! My name is Daria. I’m a content-manager, SMM, English, Ukrainian, Russian translator, have a master's degree in Finances, but I can't do somersaults. My copywriting goal is to help businesses get their message across to the audience and receive the most out of it. Feel free to contact me: [email protected]

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