Why PR pros should worry about ‘Dark PR’

Some practitioners are taking opposition research tactics perfected in the political arena into the marketplace. Despite the ethical and legal perils, some are taking a calculated risk.

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Worried co-workers gathered at computer

Not long ago, journalists, PR practitioners and their clients jousted with each other along an assumed set of guidelines. Let’s call it “White PR.”

Journalists reported objectively what they learned through their own enterprise. PR people developed positive stories and support materials about their clients and sought to gain journalists’ attention through relationships and by packaging the stories in ways that served journalists’ interests, made their jobs easier and made them look good in the eyes of their editors. Clients hired agencies to promote their agenda with the belief it would be done in respectable ways.

They called us flacks, we called them ink-stained wretches, and everyone met in the bar after work.

Today, a negative counterpoint to that largely positive process is getting louder every day in the form of “Dark PR.” Research and placement of negative news stories. Anonymously drafted attack pieces from third parties. Creation of negative or misleading content on small but influential web sites known to spark coverage in higher profile media. Influence payments to unscrupulous “journalists.” Generation of large volumes of negative social media. Flooding search results with negative content to drive down positive results.

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