PR 101: Understanding the Rhetorical Context of a Situation

One thing I’ve noticed is that few public relations professionals are skilled at capturing the context of a given situation. In PR, understanding your audience, your purpose and your strategy make the difference between success and failure. Take this “war on illegal drugs” stuff, for example.

War on Drugs image

US. officials talk about “gaining the upper hand” and attaining “victories” in the war on illegal drugs. Allowing drugs to “penetrate” our borders means that drugs are a personified enemy who can conquer America through force.

The imagery associated with the word “war” is human violence for the greater good. The metaphor of war summons the idea of violence and suffering, as well as fear of the enemy and destruction of the “other.” The phrase, “war on illegal drugs,” applies the centuries-long connotation of violence to anyone associated with supplying or using illegal drugs.

Illegal drugs and anyone associated with them are equal to enemies who are morally inferior and against homeland security. Law enforcers are encouraged to take extreme measures to maintain safety. Brute force would be more acceptable in anti-drug law enforcement. From the high-schooler who plays Puff, Puff, Pass with his friends to the head of a major drug ring, this “war” alienates them from non-drug users in America, even though they’re still American citizens. This “othering” tactic could potentially destroy human rights or even result in death.

The metaphor “war on illegal drugs” could literally become “war on countries that export drugs.” This metaphor implies that these countries are evil or tainted, while America is morally superior and at risk of being tarnished. In other words, America is seen as having the sole authority to punish others for a righteous cause.

If the United States could have me as a PR manager, I would recommend a change. We have enough gun-control and police-brutality debates already; inciting more violence at the subconscious level is the last thing that we need. An alternate name for the anti-drug movement could be “Freedom from Drug Abuse,” which paints an image of the most common, American principle: liberty. Law enforcers would then be painted as freedom-fighters who are trying to help others from abusing themselves. Another campaign idea could be “The Cure for Illegal Drugs,” because drug addiction and drug abuse are considered as mental illnesses and medically concerning. In that case, an issue like this cannot be solved with prison or death. Implying that drug addiction is a disease that needs to be cured implies that drugs are a sickness that we can fight with education and healthier living. Similar to DARE’s (Drug Abuse Resistance Education’s) campaign, all of the U.S. can take a more peaceful approach by educating young minds and encouraging a drug-free future.

In conclusion, I just babbled about drugs for the last five paragraphs. But I hope that you can understand how context can change the public’s perception. Positioning your brand in a favorable light is your No. 1 objective. In PR, perspective is everything. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading!

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