Organized persuasive communication is essential to the exercise of power at national and global levels. It has been studied extensively by scholars of public relations, promotional culture and propaganda. There exists, however, considerable confusion and conceptual limitations across these fields: scholars of PR largely focus on what they perceive to be non-manipulative forms of organized persuasive communication; scholars of propaganda focus on manipulative forms but tend either to examine historical cases or non-democratic states; scholars of promotional culture focus on ‘salesmanship’ in public life. All approaches show minimal conceptual development concerning manipulative organized persuasive communication involving deception, incentivization and coercion. As a consequence, manipulative, propagandistic organized persuasive communication within liberal democracies is a blind spot; it is rarely recognized let alone researched with the result that our understanding and grasp of these activities is stunted. To overcome these limitations, we propose a new conceptual framework that theorizes precisely manipulative forms of persuasion, as well as demarcating what might count as non-manipulative or consensual forms of persuasion. This framework advances PR and propaganda scholarship by clarifying our understanding of manipulative and propagandistic forms of organized persuasive communication and by providing a starting point for more fully evaluating the role of deception, incentivization and coercion, within contemporary liberal democracies.
- organized persuasive communication
- promotional culture
- public relations