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Rhetoric 102: The Right Kind Of Persuasion

How The Art of Persuasion Differs From Propaganda

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It's important to define -- and study -- the difference between rhetoric and propaganda, especially for anyone involved in public relations.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. It's about getting people to do something that's in their self interest.

Propaganda is about getting people to do something that's not in their best interests.

Anything is fair game with propaganda. You can use fear and lies, or bend the rules of logic into a pretzel. You can invent facts, hide the truth or Photoshop five extra missiles into a photo released to the international press. You can bribe journalists to run favorable stories or simply own all the TV stations and newspapers and make them run whatever you want.

It's easy to be tempted by the dark side. Propaganda works. It's simple and quick and evil.

But the techniques of propaganda are off limits for practitioners of rhetoric and public relations. Unless you control the media and own the megaphone, you can't count on fooling all of the people all of the time.

If you're in the public eye, you've got to do the hard word of applying rhetoric rather than taking the shortcuts of propaganda. You have to honor your audience and treat them fairly.

Whatever short-term gains that could be had by using the tools of propaganda and manipulation are outweighed by the damage those tricks and techniques do to the reputation of you, your client and your organization.

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