Alar and Pr: Getting to the Core of the Apple Problem

1.To carry out its work, a public interest organization such as NRDC must maintain a staff of administrators, scientists and researchers, lawyers, public relations practitioners and others -- either employees or consultants. Because NRDC has no products or services to sell, in the usual sense, funds must be raised through memberships, contributions and events to cover its budget.

To what extent might this consideration influence the preparation, release and promotion of a highly visible, controversial report such as the one on Alar? Do you think that the public that is the target of such campaigns, which are carried on by all public interest organizations as an important part of their illusions, is aware of this possible self-interest? If the public should be aware, whose responsibility is it to make them so? a.Because of the way groups like the NRDC need to be supported, objectivity is at risk.

The people who are big financial supporters of such groups may expect their personal agendas to be taken care of and the groups they support may want to keep them happy. It’s unlikely that the public is aware of this because it’s human nature to accept what you already believe in and not question its source. We usually only want to know how it affects us personally. b.While groups could note the source of funds on a report, it wouldn’t be in their best interest. This would call into question the objectivity issue that many people wouldn’t have otherwise thought of. It’s up to individuals to question what they believe or don’t believe.

2.Why would the public listen to an obvious non-expert such as Meryl Streep on a scientific topic like this? Critics of such celebrity involvement in issues called her a “Hollywood toxicologist.” Are you aware of any similar incidents? a.Meryl Streep is not a scientist and may or may not have known all the facts of the case before she became the spokesperson for the campaign. People are always looking for confirmation of their opinions.

To have a well-respected celebrity, with children of her own, say that she won’t feed them apples anymore can be effective to the general public. Many people don’t think about the vehicle of a message, only the message itself and how it affects them. Those who analyzed the source of the message may realize that she probably knew as much about the issue as they did and was simply acting as a voice for the NRDC.

Of the five classes of “influentials” (role models, opinion leaders, power leaders, cheerleaders and celebrities), Meryl Streep is obviously in the celebrity category. Her role, then, would be to gain attention for the topic through her visibility, which she accomplished. b.Today we have increased celebrity involvement in campaigns like saving Walden Woods (Don Henley), advocating for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (k.d. lang) and performing at Farm Aid (John Mellencamp).

3.Among its target publics, Hill & Knowlton listed the news media. Are the media a public? Or a communications vehicle? What are the strategy implications of granting them status as a public? a.This completely depends on the situation. The media are the gatekeepers and have the ability to make or break news. There are times when they can be both a vehicle and a public, but in some cases, that isn’t possible.

For instance, if there’s an issue you’d prefer they avoid, you can’t use them to communicate it to another audience. b.When saying the media are a “public,” they must be given more time and effort than usual. In the Alar case, it was the media who escalated the situation into a crisis, therefore making it essential that they be addressed specifically in the ensuing public relations campaign.

4.Does David Fenton’s campaign for NRDC raise any ethical issues? Check the PRSA Member Code of Ethics in the preface. http://www.prsa.org/aboutUs/ethics/preamble_en.html a.Coming into question would be the Honesty section: We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public. b.In general the NRDC didn’t lay all the facts out for the public (like the fact that less than 15 percent of apples were affected by Alar). It appeared that the NRDC purposely wanted to stir up public opinion.

5.Is it possible that the attention focused on apples by the Alar scare played a part in the fact that Americans are now consuming the fruit in record numbers? Attempt to make a case for the position that it did. a.The case can be made that all the publicity over Alar has further endeared Americans to the popular fruit. The point was made during the rebuttal campaign that the NRDC claims were unscientific and that apples were as wholesome as ever. Scientists and government officials were used to counter claims from a self-designated public interest group, giving the International Apple Institute claims much more credibility than the opposition.

All the publicity made apples top-of¬-mind for a lot of people. b.Also, the scrutiny over apples and how they are grown may have given consumers false confidence that they are now safer than other fruit, which have not been examined. Those who followed the discussion only generally may have assumed that pesticide use on all apples was abated, even though Alar was not a pesticide.