Master of deception PR is a growing billion industry, primarily manipulating our perception of the world. The professionals from the industry are even assisting in staging wars. In January “Brand Eins”, a Business magazine, published a report about the banana company Chiquita. The title of the story was “From an exploiter to a role model” and swarmed with compliments about the company. Chiquita was earlier called “The Octopus”, because the company established itself as the squire of Latin America. But now that is history. In 2001 the company successfully made a transition from “evil to good” – which for others came as a surprise. In April 2002 the human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch, published a report, which stated that companies such as Chiquita, Del Monte and Dole used child labour on their plantations. Some of them were between 8 and 13 years old and were actually working while poisonous fungus remedy was being sprayed onto the plantations. A short while ago, banana workers from one of the Chiquita daughter companies in Panama ditched their workplaces. Reason: the company refused to pay them wages. This sort of information did not quite suite the “Brand Eins” report. Thorough research was conducted, “but even the evil can change”, - justified these mistakes the Editor in Chief, Gabriele Fischer. Cornelia Kunze also liked the story. Kunze is the General Manager of Edelman Germany, the world’s biggest independent PR firm. Chiquita is her client. She has done a lot for these sorts of stories. Edelman organised a big press conference last October. Chiquita’s commitment in the Rainforest Alliance was celebrated, which stood up “effectively for Man and Animal” in Latin America. The journalists were provided with all the necessary materials before the “PR campaign”, said Kunze. That is how such positive articles, as the one in “Brand-Eins”, were created. “Contact to NGO’s plays a key role for the companies that have problems,” – says Kunze’s boss Richard Edelman from his office in New York’s Times Square. Edelman contrives such contacts. The agency is known for being an expert in sudden greening of companies. “Greenwashing” – is how this technique is called - to appear as environment-friendly as possible. And that is just one of many instruments used by modern Public Relations. The nurturing of these – literally speaking - public relationships – mean much more. It stands for the unleashing of a daily flood of messages about their own costumers – firms, churches, labour unions, countries, armies, animal rights and environmental agencies. Media experts say that at least 40 percent of information published in daily newspapers is distributed by PR agencies, marketing departments of offices, organisations and agencies. Often the “news” appears as alleged studies and therefore is not taken as PR. “Instead of discovering propaganda the media has become a new channel for propaganda”, - says John Stauber, founder of an independent news service PR Watch and author of a number of books about PR influence. 30,000 Business and Political magazines opposed to 15,000 to 18,000 PR professionals are now available in Germany, estimates Michael Haller, a media expert from Leipzig. In the US this relation has long been turned around to the benefit of PR experts. In the following years the PR industry has a big chance of becoming “the leading communication discipline”, - believes Edelman, - “even before advertising”, whose simple selling slogans wear out faster than the strategic conspiracies of the PR experts: leaking stories to the media, staging incidents, placing interviews, creating positive reports – “that is something that advertising can not do”, - states Edelman with pride. His agency even managed to get mentioned on a number of internet pages of famous web authors. This well networked scene, the so-called bloggers, is considered to be relatively autonomous and difficult to break into. Edelman hired a number of these authors. One of them shares joyful messages with his old colleagues about the retail giant Wal-Mart, one of Edelman clients. It takes only hours, until the positive “news” is spread. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retail company with a yearly income of 322 billion dollars, hired Edelman last summer. The allegations from critics became more prominent: Wal-Mart does not pay for working overtime, denies lunch breaks and leaves 775 000 part-time workers without health insurance. The mean company founder Sam Walton has always detested PR, but nowadays obviously nothing goes without it. The following Movie-accusation, “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price”, was shown in cinemas last autumn, in which Wal-Mart was accused of causing collateral damage, such as desolated towns, bankrupted middlesized business and horrible working conditions. The Campaign of the Critics was set by Edelman from a “war room” in Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Arkansas. Just like Wal-Mart-opponents, Edelman hired famous political Spin Doctors, such as Ronald Reagan's ex-adviser Michael Deaver. They are part of the “Rapid- Response-PR-Team” to help respond to any accusation made by the critics, “so that those fighting against the company do not become the ones defining it,” says Deaver. He talks about the so-called “swing voters” (undecided customers) and “true believers” (unshakeable customers). It is like an election. Sometimes it is also like a war. And sometimes even wars are staged by PR experts. One (and by no means the only) film illustrating this practice is “Wag the Dog,” in which Dustin Hoffman plays an ageing Hollywood director who stages an alleged war somewhere in Eastern Europe in order to detract from the US President’s actual affair. It is certain that PR specialists are also working on all fronts in the current war in the Middle East. But we will never notice it, or at least not until a few years from now, as was the case with the First Gulf War. When American tanks rolled up to Kuwait City on 27th February 1991, hundreds of Kuwaitis were waiting for them, waving American flags. Some even had British flags with them. The Americans were being celebrated as liberators in the then First Gulf War. That, at least, is what the pictures would suggest. “Have you ever asked yourselves how people from Kuwait City, after having endured seven long and painful months of being held hostage, could be capable of getting a hold of American flags?” John Rendon posed this question after the war in a speech to the National Security Council, and he added: “Yeah, you know the answer. That was one of my jobs.” The man is the head of Rendon Group, a Washington-based PR agency who specialise in the field of media-supported mobilisation. According to documents from the Pentagon, Rendon entered into 35 contracts with the Department of Defense between 2000 and 2004 alone – for at least $50 million. In Rendon group’s offices on Washington’s Connecticut Avenue 1875, a company logo is to be found neither in the lobby nor at the main entrance. Ask one of the workers who are scurrying around about their boss and they react as if they were autistic. In a way, Rendon is one of America’s war fixtures: wherever US troops were drafted in the past 17 years, Rendon came along too: in Panama he laid the ground for the US invasion. In Afghanistan, he helped the world to see the sense in wide-range air raids. He was often on site in advance of the soldiers (i.e. 1991 in Kuwait) to distribute flags. He created news, manipulated scenes and dispersed doubt on the home front. He refers to himself as “Information Warrior.” The Golden Rule of trade especially applies to people like him: the best PR is that which is not recognized as PR, and it has become a multi-billion dollar business. One of the largest PR companies is WPP, of which Burton-Marsteller (see interview on page 76) and Hill & Knowlton are affiliates. Omnicon (among Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum) is another one of the PR giants that dominates not only the US market, but has also spread its influence in Berlin and Brussels. In American fashion, they join forces with the top German law firms to act as political advisors and influence laws on behalf of their clients. The sales figures of the PR industry do not even reach those of the advertising branch (USA: $174 billion per year), however PR has a much faster growth rate. The line between the two branches has always been blurred. While advertising draws attention to the Nike brand, PR support makes sure that the consumers have a positive experience. And PR first sees to it that Nike appears humane through its sales of plastic armbands, which are designed to help against racism – all while Asian workers as of 2003 were still swallowing pills to help them work longer in Nike supply factories. PR professionals are perception managers. “They test how elastic the truth can be," says communication expert, Klaus Merten, who has studied the industry for years. Attacks on the sense of reality are often questioned in times of war and crisis. Then the demand for PR people rises precipitously. And in the meantime, crisis is permanent. An especially memorable PR operation was managed by the Hill & Knowlton agency in October 1990. The firm was instructed by the American government to formulate a public opinion on the Gulf War. Before congressional lobbyists, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti nurse, Nayirah, tearfully reported how Iraqi soldiers had entered Kuwaiti hospitals and took babies out of their incubators and threw them on the floor. With its own camera crew, Hill & Knowlton made sure that the appearance reached nearly every television station in the country. The then-President George Bush repeatedly incorporated the situation into his speech. There was just one problem: it was all a lie. In January 1992, it was revealed that Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti Ambassador in the U.S.A. A Hill & Knowlton manager had rehearsed the whole sob story with her beforehand. “The real battleground is the publicity in our country,” stated Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld. “We are selling a product,” said already ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell on the publicity efforts of the US government during the Gulf War. To at least polish the image of the USA brand, PR warhorses such as Rendon Group and Hill & Knowlton were not the only ones to help in the most recent Iraq deployment. The then unknown Lincoln Group received several million dollars from the Pentagon to produce propaganda in Iraq. Up until two years ago, the firm worked in a half-renovated community center in Washington with Start-up firms as neighbours. In the meantime, they have moved into elegant rooms on Pennsylvania Avenue and appear as sponsors for Polo games. Company founder, Paige Craig, a former sergeant in the Marines, engineered USAfriendly reports in the Iraqi newspapers. The Lincoln Group paid up to $2,000 per PR article. Wal-Mart und Chiquita supporter, Edelman, appeared as if he was sick when the speech is over Rendon or Lincoln Group. “That is not PR. That is the Renegades,” he said. PR has to stop playing the defensive. At Edelman, it is about openness and not camouflage. His office is a glass box on the 27th floor of an office complex overlooking New York’s Time Square. Behind his desk, the sunlight reflects off of peculiar-shaped sculptures – awards for many of his campaigns. He continuously receives awards. Recently, he received “Brand Campaign of the Year” from a PR magazine. For the energy giant General Electric, he created the motto “Ecomagination.” In the ads for General Electric, a jet engine becomes a sunflower. “Green is green,” said Edelman, “that was a big idea.” Ecomagination. PR is often just a word. PR people are always translators that try to obtain interpretation power over terms, make words fit, and dictate associations. Thus, the unemployed become the displaced, additional payments become sole responsibility and people become human capital. Anonymous companies are suddenly emotional beings. The most sensitive of them all can attach themselves to the blue environment and social seal “Global Impact” from the United Nations. Uno-Secretary General Kofi Anan proposed this pact in 1999. Because injuries to principles are not punished, the seal is regarded among critics as “Bluewashing” for the heavyweight members of the organization, one of them being Bayer AG. During Bayer’s membership in the pact, the German pharmaceutical company was accused of child labor by Indian suppliers. In addition, the company supposedly delayed compensation for poison victims at a South-African subsidiary, where the ground water was also contaminated. A company spokesperson didn’t know whether he should concern himself with past history. Another referred to the professional association. One should inquire at Bayer affiliate Lanxess, who is now responsible. So it continues. Bayer is also a member of EuropaBio. Although the name makes you think otherwise, this group is not about biological products, but rather to help genetic engineering find a breakthrough in Europe. With promises such as the reduction of hunger problems and massive job prospects, the scepticism of the Europeans was to be transformed into euphoria. Incorporations such as EuropaBio are regarded as “front groups” and a majority are steered by PR agencies. They are designed to neutralise critics and influence politicians. Over 160 of such organisations exist in the USA alone. Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s largest PR agencies, positioned EuropaBio. After a poisoning accident in Bhopal, India, whose consequences are still felt by 500 000 people today, Burson-Marsteller helped the chemical multinational Union Carbide to present itself as a caring company. Their PR experts were on hand for the oil multinational Exxon after the “Exxon Valdez” catastrophe of 1989. At the end of the 70s Burson-Marsteller worked for Argentina’s military junta. In the middle of the Cold War the spin doctors also saw to it that the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu improved his image. These American giants have long since settled themselves in Brussels, the European Mecca of lobbying. With 15 000 stakeholders, however, the scene is not half as populated as that in Washington. Lobbying, the private exertion of influence on political decision makers, goes hand in hand perfectly with PR. An example: in the past, the industry used mostly substances containing bromine as a fire retardant – in electronics, car seats, computer cases and sofas. However the bromine, often compared to chemical poisons like DDT and PCB, began to accumulate in people. For this reason the use of bromine has been almost completely forbidden in the EU since 2004. Alternatives have long since been available on the market, which are already being used on products produced by from companies like Sony. The last bromine product to be widely distributed, Deca-BDE, is going to be use primarily in Great Britain, where an industry-friendly fire protection law was passed. Because the Economic Commission of the EU expressed strong scepticism towards Deca-BDE in March 2005, an EU ban was placed on Deca-BDE in all new electric and electronic goods from July. But then the PR experts from Burson-Marsteller turned up. The Brussels offices of the PR agency are to be found on the Avenue de Cortenbergh 118, a typical lobbyist mile in the shade of the AU Commission complex. The name board of the office block indicates not only the name of Burson-Marsteller, but also that of the “Bromine Science and Environmental Forum” (BSEF), a front group of the bromine industry. The BSEF did not, until recently, have any workers there; the whole operation was run by PR managers. Their key role, according to the anti-lobbying organization “Corporate Europe Observatory,” is either vaguely hinted at or “simply hidden.” Two of the world’s largest bromine producers have also set up post boxes in the Avenude de Cortenbergh 118. From there Burson-Marsteller also controls the “Alliance for Consumer Fire Safety in Europe” (ACFSE), a group of concerned fire fighters, to whom bromine was of no particular importance. The ACFSE was supposed to have been set up in 1998 by Robert Graham, a British fire brigade chief, according to Jeremy Galbraith of Burson-Marsteller. The retired fireman Graham remembers it differently: “They came to me, an agency, a Mr. Rapp, I don’t make a secret of that.” Rapp worked for Burson-Marsteller at the time. Graham knew that there were alternatives to bromine; however, for the new British fire protection laws, he learned, Deca-BDE was the most cost-effective product. Graham passed this message on. Albrecht Brömme, County Chief of the Berlin Fire Department, says that he was first trained for interviews by Burson-Marsteller, “but I don’t need training anymore.” From time to time Brömme travels to Brussels, with the ACFSE picking up the tab. Then he puts on his uniform and talks about fire protection and the British example. From a PR point-of-view, Brömme and Graham are direct hits: firemen whose primary interest is fire protection – it’s hard to get more credible than that. For front groups such as the Bromine Forum to be leaders in their field is one of the oldest techniques in PR, and one that Edward Bernays (1891-1995), Sigmund Freud’s nephew, established. Bernays was working for Lucky Strike at the time. He asked a selection of journalists to the Easter parade on New York’s Fifth Avenue. Beforehand he had hired a number of famous women to smoke during the parade, something that was not permitted in public at the time. Bernays thus made the cigarettes into “torches of freedom,” and the smoking women into something like the beginning of the feminist movement in the US. Sales of Lucky Strike cigarettes skyrocketed. Bernays finesse: he mostly focused not on the actual product, but on a change in attitude of the public. For another campaign he found doctors to recommend a “hearty breakfast”- eggs and ham, for instance. Bernays was at this point working with the meat industry, who was experiencing flagging sales at the time. When the sociologist Stuart Ewan was researching the roots of mass manipulation for his book “PR! A Social History of Spin,” he became engrossed in Bernays’ books, “Propaganda” and “Crystallizing Public Opinion.” If you can understand the psyche of a particular group within the population, it becomes possible, according to Bernays, to “control the masses according to our will and to lead them without them noticing.” Bernays saw himself as someone who held the controls of society in his hand. Ewan met the PR expert himself at the beginning of the 90s. Bernays was 98 and his house was filled with memento photographs that showed him with Winston Churchill, Henry Ford and at the Peace Conference of Versailles in 1919. “Goebbels had all my books in his library,” Bernays (who was Jewish) told Ewan. As with thousands of other writers, teachers and artists, Bernays worked for the CPI (Committee on Public Information) during the First World War. The CPI’s job was to popularize the war at home – and, topically – “make the world safe for democracy,” according to a CPI slogan of the time. LIFE Magazine later counted Bernays to be among the 100 most influential Americans of the 20th century. In describing his job, the PR icon once said, “We don’t deal with images. We deal with reality.” Interview with Harold Burson: “We support journalists” SPIEGEL: Herr Burson, what is PR? BURSON: PR is about doing good and being recognised for it. It also has a lot to do with perception. Perception can be controlled through PR, attitudes can be changed. SPIEGEL: Perception management sounds sort of like propaganda. BURSON: Propaganda is a form of PR. That said, it depends upon how far you would extend propaganda, and often it stops being PR. Propaganda is done by those who wish to misinform people. SPIEGEL: Edward Bernays, who is considered the “father of misrepresentation,” saw PR as “trading with reality.” One of his most important books was called “Propaganda.” BURSON: Bernays thought that he could control public opinion. His methodology, of course, was fundamental. Most of the things we do today were identified by Bernays 80 years ago. He had brilliant ideas. I met him a few times, but didn’t like him. He was one of the most egocentric people I have ever met. SPIEGEL: The speciality of your agency Burson-Marsteller, which you set up in 1953, was crisis management. It seems that few jobs were too low for you. After the Bhopal chemical catastrophe of 1984, you tried to gloss the image of the chemical multinational Union Carbide. BURSON: In Bhopal there was an accident with over 2000 deaths. We were called and asked, “Can you help?” We wanted to support journalists in bringing out the news. SPIEGEL: And the journalists needed you, of all things? BURSON: In such a chaotic situation it was hard to see exactly what had happened. SPIEGEL: Some tanks in a ramshackle pesticide factory exploded. Union Carbide left behind a region that was to be contaminated for decades, something which now effects 500 000 inhabitants. BURSON: Our first piece of advice was to hold a press conference every day, to be transmitted via satellite. Union Carbide reacted with understanding, the director Warren Anderson stood at the site and asked for forgiveness… SPIEGEL: …and withdrew from an impending trial by fleeing to the USA. Are there companies or countries that you would not work for? BURSON: We don’t work for what the State Department calls “rogue states.” SPIEGEL: So working for the Argentinean Junta was not a problem? BURSON: No, we even consulted the State Department. And we don’t work for the Junta directly, just for the Department of Trade. But when the Junta took over power, many saw it as a liberation. SPIEGEL: A liberation? Are you doing PR now? BURSON: No, after ten years of civil wars the country returned to normality for a while. Our job is to care for investment. SPIEGEL: One of the Burson-Marsteller specialities is “grassrooting,” the generation of buzz among the masses. How does that work? BURSON: That is something fundamental to the democratic process. People believe in things that happen in their neighbourhood, things that they can follow. If they hear a story on a localised level, its credibility increases. This is why we are so enthusiastic about it. Our spin-off company “Direct Impact” specialises in placing such stories. SPIEGEL: Have you ever regretted a job? BURSON: Had I known that I would still have to be defending our work in Argentina after thirty years, I wouldn’t have accepted the military government as a client.