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March 18, 2004

Nancy Collins (Public Affairs)
Is It All Noise?
What Matters in Public Relations

Prepared by Anne Dalke
Additions, revisions, extensions are encouraged in the Forum

Speaking from twenty years in the business of public relations, but "not standing on a ground that can't be questioned," Nancy invited us to join her in dissecting the query "when are we hearing just noise, and when does information serve a higher ground?" She began her power point presentation by dismissing as "cynical" the notion that "all publicity is good publicity." That claim evokes a variety of answers in a variety of contexts, such as entertainment, politics, manufacturing and nonprofits. Discussion touched on the publically "visible" who work on being invisible; the role of public affairs (does it constitute an ethical standard from which the distribution of information can be measured? a means of anticipating how "others will spin" what you say? or only a method of management "when you mess up"?) In a world of "handlers" and "spin meisters," is it no longer possible for public figures to say what they think? There was some debate about the objectives in distributing information: success might be measured differently if one's goal is to disseminate uncommon ideas in the body politic, rather than (say) to be elected. Success, in the former case, might well be seen in the willingness to say the impolitic. Mention was also made of the "bandwidth problem"--is it not possible to push large amounts of information through the press? (If you can't say it in a "sound bite," don't say it, because you won't be given time to explain what you mean?) Nancy ended her presentation by defining public relations, its goal, and methods of measuring its effectiveness.

Our next meeting will be on Thursday, April 1, when Doug Blank (BMC Computer Science) and Jim Marshall (Pomona College Computer Science) will tell us "A Bit about Bits."

All are welcome to join in the ongoing conversation on "Information, Meaning and Noise" continuing on-line.

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