Tag Archives: PR

They Come in the Name of Helping

poster1I spend every Monday with 11 European students and one from Sierra Leone as part of the Lantos/Capitol Hill Fellowship. Yesterday afternoon, we watched the documentary They Come in the Name of Helping and afterwards we had a lively discussion with its producer, Peter Brock.


Brock met now Lantos Fellow Joseph Kaifala (from Sierra Leone) at Skidmore College in United States. Kaifala and some of his friends from back home explain how they perceive aid workers and why aid is often wrongly implemented; Aid organizations lack understanding and knowledge of the culture and society they are operating within. Furthermore, Brock argues that donors give money out of pity instead of respect and humility.


PR and aid

This raised an interesting discussion about PR campaigns raising money for aid. Brock mentioned slogans as “Save Darfur” and “Save a Child” as examples where the message tailors the donors’ bad conscience and pity instead of respect for the African people. One of the Kaifalas in the documentary says: We are poor but we deserve dignity.


I do understand the critique of the campaigns – without having paid much professional attention to them. On the other hand, as a communications professional, I also have to say that PR does not work if the campaigns do not take the target audience’s self interest and motivation into consideration. And how much can one individual take in? The aid organizations are competing with each other and they are competing with other issues such as climate change, human rights, and homelessness in our backyard. Therefore, the PR campaigns have to cut through this clutter to be successful. Not to say that they cannot improve. I am sure they can!


Brock and Kaifala suggest that we should not only donate money to Africa but should become civically engaged in our local communities and fight local problems. I figure this should improve our respect and humility for other people – at home and abroad. This message might work in United States with a communitarian tradition. But I do not think it could work in a European setting – or at least in the Scandinavian countries. For instance, we do not have the same tradition for helping out in our communities. Another guest speaker to the group said that Americans cook a casserole as soon as there is minor problem. That is also my experience from living here. But that does not transcend to Europe – or at least my home country Denmark.


Please, watch poster_TheComeInTheNameOfHelpingthe documentary. It is thoughtful and it raises an important debate and call for more respect and humility in development aid which does make a lot of sense to me.


My Projection


In our latest class in Political Campaign Communications we talked too much about GOTV and Wardrobe-gate that we never had the chance to come up with our personal projections of the election. I will give it a try!


From everything I have learned in this class and in this program in general about PR, campaigning and communication I project that Obama will win. I do so because Obama has a clear and inspiring message, built an effective and impressive field organization, harnessed digital media, and handled crises and attacks effectively. I don’t think it will be a landslide. It will be close. And Obama supporters and Democrats will be nail biting all election day long (I will too).


In spite of this impressive campaign, I am just like Mitchell Bard on Huffington Post not fully convinced about an Obama victory yet. Nate Silver at ThirtyFiveEight.com gives Obama a 96.7 percent chance of winning. I am quite comfortable with Silver’s work but as Dee Alsop said in the beginning of our semester: “polling is just polling”. The polls can be misleading because of terrible methodology; you have to look at the margin or error (5%), the quality of the questions, the interviewer’s role (missed anything?) and the sample.


Furthermore, voter turnout, race, and young voters are factors that we just don’t know for sure how they will affect the election. In other words:


  • Will Obama’s impressive GOTV and field organization make the difference?
  • Will or will the Bradley effect not be relevant?
  • Will young voters turn out for Obama?  

We will see on Tuesday.

The PR War between China and Tibet


Watching the build up to the Olympics has been, for me, like watching the world’s biggest, slowest traffic accident. For a while now its been pretty obvious that a lot of contentious issues about China were going to come to the front as we approach August 8th, but the problem is that there are two completely separate parallel worlds on these issues: the Chinese one, and the rest of us.” (Dave on Mutantpalm).

The PR war is also a war of realities. Most Chinese are baffled by the protests for a Free Tibet or Tibetan Independence because they have been taught that Tibet has been a part of China for more than 700 years (PRC official White Paper, 1992). On the other side, Westerns have been baffled with the emotional and nationalist Chinese response you see here.   

We are also witnessing two different approaches to PR.

China is a relatively closed system and does not seem to understand or accept social networking and social media. China is a good example of executing old way communication: one way and top-down.


The Tibetan organizations are relatively open systems which are listening and responding to their supporters or peers. They are engaged in a “two-way communications model”. You can argue that their survival and growth depend on the interaction with their supporters.The Tibetan organizations are grass root organizations, and the new way of communicating fits their purpose, agenda, and organization.


We do see blogs in China, but we do not see that many bloggers on each side that participate in a conversation. Since the Chinese government monitors the Chinese netizens, I would assume that they are nervous about engaging in these kinds of conversations. A few weeks ago, Hu Jia was sentenced 31/2 year in jail because of interviews he gave to foreign media and entries he had posted on a Chinese language U.S. based Website.


Right now, the Tibetan organizations are the winners of the PR war. Time will show if they can turn this PR success into political change and action?