Spokesperson is a Four-Letter Word: Public Relations and Power in Occupy New York

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Adding to the growing literature considering public relations practitioners as activists, this qualitative, interpretative research article explores the controversial idea of acting as spokesperson for a so-called leaderless social movement, Occupy Wall Street (OWS). Through interviews with members of the erstwhile OWS Press Relations Working Group in New York, this article explores their negotiated dual roles as both activists and practitioners. Using critical cultural theory with its emphasis on power, context, and history, the group’s media relations tactics are discussed with an emphasis on the role of spokesperson, revealing contested meanings about public relations work. The framework of the circuit of culture explains the constraints experienced by many of these activist practitioners as they navigated ideals of their movement that were often in conflict with their public relations practices. The study finds uneasy relationships with power in relation to internal and external communication. Specifically, the group disrupts the false binaries of managerial and critical cultural approaches to public relations, as well as agency and oppression through contextual power. Their work brokers a paradox – speaking to change the status quo through a media system arguably captured by the status quo, while using a tactic that was seen as equally problematic.

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SAGE Publications

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Public Relations Inquiry